Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 02, 2018 6:15 pm 
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A midlife-crisis comedy of adultery set against a changing French publishing world

Whether it is called Non-Fiction or the more resonant Double Lives, Olivier Assayas' energetic new film is a sharply edited, very smart, very French non-stop intellectual farce full of debates and speculations about the rapidly changing worlds of old and new media. Print may be dying out - but is it? Children and old people love to read books, except retirees prefer E-books - cheaper, lighter weight and with the option of larger print. Do people read any more? Are Tweets the epigrams of today? Twitter, the Internet, E-books (narrated by celebrities), blogs, "fake news," are constantly being discussed.

Meanwhile husbands and wives and lovers and mistresses must be juggled, and this is done with the same dexterity and sangfroid one would bring to business deals or politics. And by the way, do politicians ever have the public in mind or just power and money? And are publishers interested in content or only in commodities? In Double Lives (now emerging as the English title), which debuted at Venice and showed also at Toronto, Assayas considers the state of print in the digital age from the point of view primarily of his two couples, who dance around each other.

Alain (Guillaume Canet) is an old-fashioned print publisher (though he is constantly toying with going electronic). Selena (Juliette Binoche), Alain's wife, is a busy actress on popular TV. Laure (Christa Théret) is digitally updating Canet's company, and has something else going on with Alain. Léonard (Vincent Macaigne) is a somewhat sleazy novelist of "auto-fiction" (he cannibalizes his many affairs into the next book). He is perhaps down on his luck because Alain isn't offering to publish his latest novel, though he has published the others. Léonard's wife Valérie (Nora Hamzawi) works for a politician.

Rapidly cutting from one scene of fast dialogue to the next Assayas changes venues at a bracingly rapid clip, playfully introducing possibilities that are blithely reversed in the second half in the manner of certain classic comedies, like the sale of a publishing house, or its dropping of Léonard from Alain's list, only to reverse them later and at the end, things may be pretty much back where they started, except the publisher has dropped his mistress and the celebrity has dropped her lover. The dialogue's the thing, with a few brief interludes in bed, a book talk, an interview on Radio France, a trip to the country and to the grand estate of a mogul, Marc-Antoine, played in a brief appearance by Pascal Greggory.

Everyone looks a little different, Canet more severe, Binoche less glamorous, Gregory less eccentric, Macaigne - well, Macaigne is always Macaigne, but like all the players, his dialogue and part are so good and his delivery of them so fluent the focus is on them and not the actor per se. "Double Lives" because each character has a serious job to do - Assayas is fine here at showing them at work (or trying to get away with what they do, like Léonard and his personal scandal novels) but also is seen as someone with a messy private existence, with peccadillos their partners may or may not know - or care - about. And in the end also the questions of media have both been taken seriously and dismissed as, perhaps, not such a big deal after all - if only young people would get their noses out of their "devices."

Assayas' new film again shows his almost unique ability among today's French directors to surprise us, and perhaps himself, with a brilliant treatment of new material - which nonetheless returns to classic themes.

Non-Fiction/Doubles vies (Double Lives), 108 mins., debuted at Venice 31 Aug. 2018, also showing at seven other festivals including Telluride, Toronto and the New York Film Festival, where it was screened for this review. It will be distributed by IFC/Sundance Selects in the US. Metascore 83. Not out in France till Jan. 2019. (AlloCiné press rating 3.0, Metascore 79%.) See Armond White's damning review in National Review.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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