Sophisticated and witty, “Non-Fiction,” a French film written and directed by Olivier Assayas, is an up-to-the minute story about the publishing world in the new digital age. Perfectly cast and often very funny, the film involves intimate relationships and sexual betrayals that combine the business world with personal machinations. Having been shown at last fall’s New York Film Festival and now getting a commercial release, “Non-Fiction” is one of the best films to open his year.
How much about real-people does a writer put into his novels with characters others will recognize as themselves? Such parallels can have unsettling effects, as is the case with novelist Léonard Spiegel, earthily played by Vincent Macaigne, who in the early stage of the film is being fobbed off at a lunch by Alain Danielson, his editor, played suavely by Guillaume Canet, who recognizes certain elements in the manuscript Léonard wants published.
Guess what? Léonard has been in a romance with none other than the editor’s wife, Selina, exquisitely enacted by Juliette Binoche in a fresh major screen achievement. It is always enjoyable to watch Binoche at work, and she is at the top of her game here playing a successful television actress frustrated with her career, and trying to convince her husband to publish her lover’s novel even as she is on the verge of ending the relationship.
Of course, editor Alain has been quite busy with his own bedroom shenanigans. He is having a fling with Laure (Christa Théret), whom he has hired to take the publishing company into its new digital level. (Although all of the talk about the digital age concerns what’s happening in France, the situation is patently pertinent to the United States as well.) The skill with which Assayas sets up the entanglements is remarkable, and the cast members strike exactly the right attitudes to establish French sophistication masking what happens between the sheets.
“Non-Fiction” is also notable for the appearance of Nora Hamzawi, until now known primarily as a standup comedian. She contributes colorful acting as Valérie, an outspoken activist involved in promoting a left-wing candidate. She not only adds a political dimension, but she is involved with Léonard. The relationship between Valérie and Léonard turns out to be especially interesting and sensitive.
Some of the best scenes occur when those having affairs are thrown together, the betrayers and the betrayed, and are attempting to be discreet and above it all. The film is loaded with smart dialogue and humorous lines, all adding up to a film unlike anything an American film would be likely to attempt. That goes for all of the serious conversation about the changing world of publishing as well as the way in which the film addresses infidelity. As you can gather, the very entertaining “Non-Fiction” is definitely a favorite of mine. An IFC Films release. Reviewed April 30, 2019.