That film, “Memories of My Mother” tells the story of a mother who has only two years to live, so she decides to live in outer space because “nobody grows old out there.” She makes occasional visits to see her daughter, who keeps getting older while her mother stays the same age. Eventually, the daughter is a 73 years old embodied by Fabienne. The lead actress is Manon Lenoir (Manon Clavel), an up-and-coming actress who looks like the late actress Sarah Mondavan, whose spirit haunts “The Truth” through a slew of Fabienne’s memories, all of which she has left out of her memoir. “It’s not going to be a good film,” Fabienne says of Manon’s movie. But “Memories” is going to be a useful plot device for Kore-eda.
Plot device is not exactly accurate; unlike Kore-eda’s acclaimed last feature “Shoplifters,” “The Truth” doesn’t have very much of a plot. What little there is serves as a clothesline for its two excellent leads to hang their performances out to dry. This very entertaining movie is all about its women, mothers and daughters, grandmothers and granddaughters, actresses and mentors and best friends whose relationship has gone downhill for reasons about to be unearthed. Because it’s about women, “The Truth” could derisively be described as a soap opera, but as someone who grew up watching my “stories,” I see nothing wrong with that genre. In fact, this kind of movie is my jam—divas commanding the screen while, to quote Celeste Holm in “All About Eve,” “the men will do as they’re told.”
Representing those obedient (and less interesting) men is Ethan Hawke, who plays Lumir’s actor husband, Hank. Unlike Fabienne, he’s not very good (“he’s a better lover than actor,” Lumir tells her mother) and he’s pretty much tasked with what would be the girlfriend role in this picture. Hell, he even works on an internet soap opera, one watched by Jacques (Christian Crahay) and Papy Pierre (Roger Van Hool), the other men in Fabienne’s house. (They recap the plot with giddy delight, like a bunch of aunties sitting down for tea.) Hawke smartly plays Hank as the guy caught in the middle between mother and daughter, eager to cede the spotlight to their battles. But he’s very good at listening and silently reacting—he doesn’t understand French yet plays an entire scene with Fabienne where he seems to be getting what she’s talking about—and he has a great moment of drunkenness where it’s revealed that he hasn’t been truthful about why he originally gave up booze. In vino veritas, as the saying goes.