Review: NON-FICTION Is A Quiet And Understated Satire By Olivier Assayas

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Juliette Binoche as “Selena” and Guillaume Canet as “Alain Danielson” in Olivier Assayas’s Non-Fiction. Courtesy of IFC Films. A Sundance Selects Release.

Non-Fiction is a new dramedy, the newest film from acclaimed French writer-director Olivier Assayas. Set in the world of Parisian publishing, it tells the story of a writer, an editor, and their wives as they face a mid-life crisis and are entangled in extramarital affairs. It has played at festivals including the 2018 Venice Film Festival and the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.

This movie’s story is definitely very multi-layered, although it does not entirely pay off. Assayas is looking at this extremely small portion of French society to say something broader about society as a whole. However, this comes with the unintended effect of making the film feel almost inconsequential. It feels like there is so much going on in the story, but nothing that happens feels like it has any real or long-lasting impact.

Another issue with the movie is that the characters aren’t particularly easy to approach. All of the characters feel very cold and distant, and while this may be intentional, that doesn’t change the fact that it is hard to sympathize with their story. They frequently feel petty, and once they finally get over those qualities of their personalities, the film ends. The characters would have been much more likable if their arc hadn’t been compressed to such a small portion of the story.

Regardless, the movie is still relatively enjoyable to watch because it moves along at a rather good pace. Much of the film has a sense of humor about it, albeit a dry European one, so there is a bit of bounciness to it. There are quite a few moments that are laugh-out-loud funny, but a majority of the comedy is of a more subtle kind. Those who don’t enjoy European humor are unlikely to pick up on the tone of the movie and may instead find it to be boring.

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Juliette Binoche as “Selena” and Vincent Macaigne as “Léonard Spiegel” in Olivier Assayas’s Non-Fiction. Courtesy of IFC Films. A Sundance Selects Release.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the script is what it has to say. A significant majority of the film’s central conflict surrounds the death of print and the increasing popularity of the electronic medium within the publishing industry. This can be taken more broadly to represent society’s increasing reliance on technology and how it affects those who are not as acclimated to the newest trends.

The performances are almost certainly the best part of the movie. Despite the fact that the characters aren’t particularly likable, the actors are able to breathe life into them. Juliette Binoche is one of the most talented actresses working today, and this film ranks among her best work. Her delivery is simply impeccable. Vincent Macaigne is also a standout in his supporting role, handling the comedy quite well.

On a technical level, the movie is extremely strong. It is unusual that a film of this type would be made with such precision in the execution, but since Assayas is a phenomenal and artistic director, it comes at no surprise that the movie is as beautiful as it is. The cinematography is excellent throughout, with the use of lighting being particularly notable. The visual style of this film is what makes it stand out and is worth the watch alone.

Overall, Non-Fiction was a well-made and challenging movie. Although the characters are problematically-written, the film is still very interesting because of Assayas’s signature quiet ruminations on life and society.

Non-Fiction opens in theaters on May 3.

By Sean Boelman

Sean is a film student, aspiring filmmaker, and life-long cinephile. For as long as he can remember, he has always loved film, but he credits the film Pan's Labyrinth as having started his love of film as art. Sean enjoys watching many types of films, although some personal favorite genres include dramatic comedies, romantic comedies, heist films, and art horror.

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