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Parlez games in Non-Fiction

17 October, 2019 — By Dan Carrier

Juliette Binoche in Non-Fiction

NON-FICTION
Directed by Olivier Assayas
Certificate 12a
☆☆☆

THE intellectual life of Parisian know-it-alls is the starting point for Oliver Assaya’s well-pitched and well-performed comedy.

This slow-baked fun-poking at cerebral posing is inhabited by people with a large variety of unpleasant characteristics – the only person that perhaps you’d not move away from if they sat next to you on the Paris Metro is Juliette Binoche’s Selina: an actor who is immediately condescen­ded to by those she interacts with for her success in a TV cop drama (though she will remind those sneering at her that she plays a crisis management expert, as opposed to a police officer).

She is married to suave Alain (Guillaume Canet), a publisher who heads a successful business but believes, perhaps, the printed model is on its way out, and is now looking to switch operations into e-books.

Such a dilemma is used as a platform for the various learned types to spout forth on the nature of literature, if the internet has been a boon to the written word or another step towards a world where quality is forgotten in pursuit of Twitter likes.

In a beguiling opening scene, Alain meets dishevelled Left Bank-style author Leonard (Vincent Macaigne) for lunch in a Parisian bistro (a warning – the film features a lot of chatter over the crisp table clothes of hunger-inducing bistros).

There is a longstanding friendship between the pair, though it is clear all is not well: and on the surface, it is because Alain has decided not publish Leonard’s latest musings, which are based solely on thinly autobiographical accounts of who he has slept with. Quite why Alain has decided his author’s latest work isn’t quite what he wants becomes clearer as the film progresses.

Alain hangs out with a group of friends, who, on top of their brainy sparring, happen to be sleeping with each other in an endless cycle of loveless sex geared towards self-satisfaction.

Each scene is set as a stage for intellectual banter – and some of it is hilarious – though at times so well done you want the cast to talk about absolutely anything else that isn’t a state-of-the-world diatribe. Those long winter nights must just fly by in Parisian salons.

That the audience will react to their posing is a testament to how well written and acted Non-Fiction is. You may find yourself wishing to grab the screen and shake some of the nonsense from them as they pontificate endlessly. At times the continuous posing grates. At times the loathesomeness of the leads makes it hard work.

But that is because the film hits the targets it aims for – a well-paced and cleverly crafted comedy of relationships, morals and over-thinking stuff way beyond individuals’ ability to properly compute and control.

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