Comedy/drama, rated R, 108 minutes, in French with subtitles, The Screen, 3 chiles
If Gutenberg had invented e-books instead of movable type, and we were now finding ourselves transitioning away from a digital format toward some newfangled invention that involved bound paper volumes, would we feel nostalgia for the good old days? Jeez, these things are heavy! And you need light!
Much of the new film from French director Olivier Assayas (Clouds of Sils Maria, Summer Hours) has to do with our head-spinningly rapid transition away from traditional books into the brave new world of Kindle; away from long-form literature into the new media of blogs, tweets, and texts.
Assayas delivers this through the more familiar, and very French, tradition of conversation. This is an Éric Rohmer movie for the digital age. And it wouldn’t be French, or in the Rohmer tradition, if it didn’t involve a healthy preoccupation with sex.
When they’re not talking, his characters are pursuing the delights of extramarital affairs. The players are Alain (Guillaume Canet), a traditional book publisher, and his wife Selena ( Juliette Binoche), an actress who plays a cop (well, a crisis management expert) on a popular TV series. Then there’s Léonard (Vincent Macaigne), a sad-sack novelist published by Alain. And his wife, Valérie (Nora Hamzawi), who works for a much-admired politician. Filling out the list of first-stringers is Laure (Christa Théret), a cool young career woman who is in charge of the publishing house’s digital transition.
These, and other intellectual friends, mostly inclining toward middle age, sit around at parties or in cafés and talk about how things are changing, and how information no longer exists, and how we live in a post-truth world. And when they do slip between the sheets, sometimes in eye-popping pairings, they don’t necessarily stop talking, at least as soon as the main event is over. “You write differently for the net,” says the youngster Laure, patiently trying to explain things to her older publisher lover. “You optimize the use of keywords, so they’ll be picked up by robots.”
The talk is enlivened by a wonderful cast. Canet is smooth and smart, Binoche is as irresistible as always, and Macaigne as Léonard delivers a wonderfully vulnerable and self-absorbed writer whose ruthless “auto-fiction” leaves his friends, and especially his ex-lovers, wondering who’ll be the next to be exposed in the pages of his new book. Perhaps best of all is Théret, whose no-nonsense political consultant spares little nurturing consolation for the easily bruised Léonard but saves a life-affirming surprise for the end.