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Non-Fiction 2019 ****

Olivier Assayas made something of a dent in public perception of mobile phones in Personal Shopper; technology has been something of a theme for the French film-maker, and having Kristen Stewart’s character menaced by an other-worldly spirit through a mobile phone raised a few questions; what kind of payment plan would a ghost use? Would an exorcism require a PAC code?

Fortunately, Assayas is not a character to get bogged down in such trivialities, and his latest, Non-Fiction, is a wonderfully intelligent look at the impact of the internet on the publishing industry. We begin with an author and a publisher sitting down for lunch in a fashionable bistro. The author wants to know if the publisher will schedule his new book; the publisher has other ideas. As played by Guillaume Canet (Alain, the publisher) and Vincent Macaigne (Leonard, the author), there’s a battle of wits going on that doesn’t end when the check comes. Alain is no fuddy-duddy when it comes to publishing, and sees how twitter, blogging and other modern forms of expression might free ideas and intellect. Leonard has been cannibalising his private life as material for his books, and when writing about a film featuring French creatives, it’s no big spoiler to reveal that both men are having affairs.

Which leads us to Juliette Binoche, who previously played a character very much like herself in Assayas’s Clouds of Sils Maria, and portrays Selena, a sought-after actress who stars in a binge-watchable police mini-series. At one point, she discusses a potential audio-book with her husband, with one Juliette Binoche considered as a star-name to pull in the punters. Such playful touches are very much in tune with Non-Fiction’s mood, which enjoys the double-dealing and false-friendships of publishing for what they are, the product of ingenious minds not quite smart enough to beat the system.

Non-Fiction swims very much against the current when it comes to film-making; Assayas allows the audience to sit back and listen to the conversation, making up our own minds about the people involved. It’s this dinner-party chat that makes Non-Fiction such a pleasure to participate in. The performances are perfectly pitched, the story is relevant and original, and the whole package should be firmly recommended to discerning cineastes.

Non-Fiction opens in the UK on October 18th and can be streamed here


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