Juliette Binoche Stars In 'Non-Fiction,' A Comedy About Book Publishing And Adultery

May 3, 2019
Originally published on May 3, 2019 4:34 pm
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The new Juliette Binoche movie "Non-Fiction" is total fiction, a made-up comedy that deals with book publishing and adultery. But if you know anything about either of those subjects, critic Bob Mondello says you'll recognize some kernels of truth.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Leonard is a writer who specializes in what you might call autobio-fiction. He pens salacious novels based on his own affairs, something the literary world long ago figured out and that his longtime publisher Alain is starting to find distasteful. The books are sordid, Alain tells his wife, Selena, and repetitive.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "NON-FICTION")

GUILLAUME CANET: (As Alain, speaking French).

MONDELLO: Is this novel, she wonders idly, about a recent affair?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "NON-FICTION")

JULIETTE BINOCHE: (As Selena, speaking French).

CANET: (As Alain, speaking French).

MONDELLO: Selena's question isn't entirely idle. Though she's a glamorous actress and writer Leonard is as rumpled as an unmade bed, the affair his latest book is about is theirs. And to Selena's annoyance, Leonard's kept that a secret from her husband by claiming the character he based on her was based on a different TV star.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "NON-FICTION")

BINOCHE: (As Selena, speaking French).

VINCENT MACAIGNE: (As Leonard, speaking French).

BINOCHE: (As Selena, speaking French).

MONDELLO: Before you start feeling too sorry for Selena's husband, Alain, let's note that he's also having an affair - this is a French film - with a young consultant he's hired to drag his publishing firm into the digital age. Their post-lovemaking conversations find her saying things like tweets are haikus, and, texting is writing. Alain wonders whether Kindle has made printed novels obsolete. And as they debate the future of publishing, Selena tussles with a bit less nuance with drug dealers on her TV show.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "NON-FICTION")

MONDELLO: French director Olivier Assayas is just the guy to make all of this at once fizzy and intellectually engaging. His films always center on characters who talk and talk. And having them talk about post-truth society and the democratizing of literature seems to bring out his most cosmopolitan impulses. He is aided by a cast that includes scene-stealing comedienne Nora Hamzawi making her debut as Leonard's wife and the reliably sublime Juliette Binoche as Selena, a woman who can act her way out of a marital crisis and handle a gun.

Binoche also plays along with a nice inside joke. At one point, the rumpled writer and the publisher he's cuckolding are trying to think of a celebrity who could voice their audiobook. Guess whose name comes up.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "NON-FICTION")

CANET: (As Alain, speaking French).

MACAIGNE: (As Leonard, speaking French).

MONDELLO: With Binoche sitting right there as Selena, the filmmakers have a cinematic equivalent for the literary games they've been playing. "Non-Fiction" is always that kind of smart, whether its characters are nattering on about binge-watching TV or the fact that folks willing to pay $1,500 for a computer don't want to shell out 50 cents for a newspaper. It's about life as it's lived in sophisticated Parisian circles. And where Leonard obviously follows the maxim, write what you know, "Non-Fiction" suggests that film what you know can work, too, as long as a director is having as much fun as Assayas is making the literary literal. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.