Pi@LFF is a series of reviews made by a team of Pi’s Arts & Culture writers at the 62nd BFI London Film Festival. In this article, Bruno Reynell reviews Olivier Assayas’ witty comedy, Non-Fiction.
Olivier Assayas’ Non-Fiction is a little bit about the digital revolution in the publishing industry, a little bit about the ethical boundaries surrounding authorship, and a whole lot about the way adults navigate illicit relationships and existential crises.
The story largely centres around the daily lives of four individuals, each with their own issues. Alain (Guillaume Canet) is a publishing executive who worries about the long-term health of his company at a time where Amazon Kindles threaten and readership is declining. His wife Selena (Juliette Binoche) is a successful actress in a high-octane television drama, but she finds the role unfulfilling and feels her career stalling.
Meanwhile, novelist Léonard (Vincent Macaigne) is left reeling after being dropped by Alain’s publishing company, and his girlfriend Valérie (Nora Hamzawi) is stressed by the daily difficulties of her role of as a political advisor to a socialist politician.
However, you don’t necessarily feel sympathy for these characters and their first-world-problem-filled lives, the reason being that they aren’t all exactly paragons of virtue themselves: Alain is sleeping with Laure (Christa Theret), the newly hired head of ‘digital transition’ at his company. Selena should have all the right in the world to feel angry and aggrieved. That’s apart from the fact that she’s also having an affair. Who with? Léonard, of course.
Léonard’s dubious behaviour extends into his writing. His works are heavily autobiographical, and he makes little attempt to mask the real-life identity of his characters, leading to moral questions and general embarrassment for those implicated. For example, he bases a character in his most recent title on Selena, much to her anxiety.
Truth be told, Valérie is the only main character who largely escapes the audience’s exasperation. Her insistence on taking her friends’ political opinions personally can be a little trying at certain times, but she’s a strong and funny figure who doesn’t suffer fools gladly – a good trait to have, considering the conduct of the others.
All these factors mean that interaction between the characters can be wonderfully awkward at times, especially during their frequent, usually wine-fuelled, gatherings. However, the conversations they have are not just there for comic value. A range of interesting topics as diverse as the impact of the internet on society, thoughts around what constitutes ‘good writing’, and the credibility of politicians are discussed and debated by the characters.
There’s nothing enormously ground-breaking about Non-Fiction, but that certainly doesn’t prevent it from being an enjoyable watch. The humour is dark and witty (including several excellent and memorable uses of Franglais), and it’s an intellectually engaging film. More than that, at its core is an effective exploration of how people choose to juggle changes in their lives with relationships and, more generally, the truth.