Olivier Assayas – Non-Fiction

In the hands of a less skilled director, Non-Fiction would have been an utter bore, but Olivier Assayas’ direction slightly elevates the film to a candid if not trifling drama. It’s difficult to believe that the same director here is also the one who directed films as imaginative as Demon Lover (2002) and Personal Shopper (2016). Admittedly, both those works dabble in the sci-fi and fantasy genres, respectively, perhaps demanding more flair. Yet what’s also compelling about Demon Lover and Personal Shopper is Assayas’ refusal to make a film resembling something Hollywood. In their aesthetics, both Demon Lover and Personal Shopper, and by extension Assayas, say something about their world and ours, whether it concerns our slavery to sickening pleasure or the inability to overcome grief. With Non-Fiction, Assayas wants to comment on the state of the literary industry, but also seems scared to take a proper stance. Alain (Guillaume Canet), a literary editor, refuses to publish the latest work of his friend Leonard (Vincent Macaigne), a successful writer who traffics in auto-fiction. Leonard’s stories center on his affairs, and it turns out, he’s sleeping with Alain’s wife, Selena (Juliette Binoche). Meanwhile, Alain is having an affair of his own with his new hire, Laure (Christa Theret). Out in the cold in all these affairs is Leonard’s own wife, Valerie, who works as a political consultant for a left-wing politician on the rise. There are dinner parties, literary conferences, and interviews—settings that allow Assayas to create dialogues surrounding the issues at hand: the advent of a digital market and the death of its physical obverse. The conversations here are presented in shot-reverse-shot. There’s a feeling of constraint, a palatable fear for error, a fear of perhaps offending someone. The actors are superb and carry their weight, expressing sorrow, anger, fear, and cowardice. Non-Fiction is sexy, but when you consider it’s a French film partly about affairs, it’s difficult not to be. Yet for its seemingly emotional depths, Non-Fiction comes off as sterile. Between these two subjects of affairs and a changing literary market, Assayas infuses Non-Fiction with a smattering of everything in our current zeitgeist. Me Too, the rise of left-wing politics, binge-watching, piracy, and our nonstop consumption of internet content. There’s even a reference to Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). Despite presenting a rapidly changing world, however, by the end of the film there’s little to no sense of consequence. The status quo remains. More daring would have been a story about the changing digital market as it relates to film, and Assayas’ role as a now entrenched director within the establishment.

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