NON-FICTION is a witty, insightful and intelligent film that delves into the lives of those immersed in the publishing industry as it battles for relevance and importance in the modern age. Two protagonist couples are at the centrefold of this drama; critiquing and squabbling over the future of the arts among friends while trying to navigate their own crumbling foundations.
Publishing editor and literary mogul Alain Danielson (Guillaume Canet) mulls over an initial book draft written by an old friend; author Leonard Speigel (Vincent Macaigne), who keeps eyeing him up as they discuss the impending novel. Leonard’s work tends to revolve around his affairs with various women over the years, much to Alain’s distaste it appears, and the fictionalisation of his life. The book is brought up again at an evening social gathering, where we meet his actress wife Selena, played by the elusive yet charming Juliette Binoche. She quibbles with Alain over the book, with surprising defensiveness, and they gently bat opinions back and forth as married couples do but with an aged coolness. Under the surface is a brilliant conundrum of adultery and slyness, it appears, between the couples and their friends. Selena has grown tiresome of her role in a popular TV-police drama and she craves a rejuvenation from her cushy life.
Alain’s own apathy and ambivalence stems from the pressures facing his publishing company as they attempt to navigate their position in the digital age; wanting to preserve the history and culture of print but then knowing they must adapt to a digital audience. He hires the intelligent and sultry Laure d’Angerville (Christa Théret) and their passions rise in conversations over the future of books and heat up between the sheets. In many ways, Alain epitomises the devil’s advocate, asserting the necessity of supporting publishing’s impending digitalisation, yet defending the history and preservation of print to his protégé as she pushes for the rise of the e-book. This is what makes his fluctuating nature so captivating; it explores the dilemma of a generation of people who are caught in the middle of this issue affecting the wider media industry. How do you encompass modern habits and accessibility without losing the prominence of traditional artistic gatekeeping? The film really doesn’t offer a solution but instead navigates the issues from both sides. However, it is done with dry humour and wit that prevents the film from being all-consuming and dull.
“In many ways, Alain epitomizes the devil’s advocate, asserting the necessity of supporting publishing’s impending digitalisation, yet then defending the history and preservation of print to his protégé…”
This is a stark comparison to Leonard, who is so utterly hapless and indigestible at times. He is an infuriatingly egotistical writer whose self-awareness of his insatiableness is familiar yet exasperating (which is expressed by his partner Valérie, played by Nora Hamzawi). As a politician’s aide, her pragmatic day-to-day life means she deals with his irrationality with a hilarious sarcasm. She refuses to let his obsession with his own auteurship dominate their lives, and also holds the same contempt of his novel as Alain because she suspects she is not the source of inspiration. It is revealed, in fact, to be Selena, during their encounters stolen away over the past six years. It is the only point in which the privacy of these individuals seeps into the public eye, through Leonard, who himself doesn’t even realise how much he is detested on the internet for exposing the intimate moments of his numerous affairs, ignorant to his own accountability.
This boiling pot of contempt, cheating and exasperation is what makes the film so brilliant. They all possess a level of self-assurance when the characters themselves face so much future uncertainty. During wine-fuelled evenings with friends, they debate the ownership of novels and individual prominence in the art world, when in fact it is all a reflection of the economy of the self. Their lives revolve within their own bubbles as they constantly watching life pass by their own glass houses, believing they are of a different calibre to the rest of the world because they build, sell, direct and act the narrative of the media. There is a constant state of infighting for power between them, wanting to deflect all criticism from themselves and yet still be allowed to freely critique others in public with the irony being that they all crave their own emotional vulnerability in private. The cinematography becomes such an immersive part of the film, with framing that is so comforting and delves into everyday nuances that presents tender moments and sees the world through their dubious lens.
“The storytelling is astute and carries the traits of traditional French cinema that navigates the changing modern media landscape, and how those behind it care all too much and equally very little at all.”
Having premiered at the 75th Venice Film Festival, and debuted screenings at Sundance, TIFF and New York; the film has truly found itself nestled into the hearts of many cinephiles. NON-FICTION is a subtly powerful, intelligently engaging film that delves into the complex discourse of a changing media landscape, and how this affects the prominent individuals who keep this industry revolving. With a sparse soundtrack, crude and jocular dialogue and sweeping shots; the film brings many debates to the table. The vitality of the French publishing world, the cult of politician personality and the preservation of art-house cinema are shredded and soaked throughout. The storytelling is astute and carries the traits of traditional French cinema that navigates the changing modern media landscape, and how those behind it care all too much and equally very little at all. That despite all their aversions to normality, their actions are dictated to by the same job-filled apathy, sexual deviancy, and curiosity we are all driven by.