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Juliette Binoche and Guillaume Canet in Non-Fiction.

Courtesy of TIFF

  • Non-Fiction
  • Written and directed by Olivier Assayas
  • Starring Guillaume Canet, Vincent Macaigne and Juliette Binoche
  • Classification R
  • 108 minutes

rating

2.5 out of 4 stars

Olivier Assayas’s work often arrives with a challenge.

The French auteur’s fantastic miniseries Carlos, for example, asked audiences to identify with a terrorist. His recent pair of Kristen Stewart-starring dramas Clouds of Sils Maria and Personal Shopper dared us to engage with genre in exciting and uncategorizable ways. But Assayas’s latest film, Non-Fiction, puts forward a different kind of demand upon its viewer: What year, exactly, are we supposed to believe that this film takes place?

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Movies opening this week: Give me a P for Poms and Pokémon: Detective Pikachu

From the sight of smartphones and an extended joke about Star Wars: The Force Awakens, we’re meant to assume “now.” Yet Non-Fiction’s characters spend most of the film fretting about the online world, especially “blogs” and “e-books,” as if they were radically new inventions and not concepts that are roughly two decades old. Perhaps this naive tech-phobia can be chalked up to Assayas’s own aversion to the online world – he proudly doesn’t engage on social media – but the trickle-down effect into the film is slightly embarrassing.

Non-Fiction’s upper-class Parisian characters – including Guillaume Canet’s book publisher, Juliette Binoche’s television actress and Vincent Macaigne’s shaggy novelist – are interesting and layered and capable of spouting some very funny (and very French) dialogue. But Assayas mostly uses them as mouthpieces for his own bubble-wrapped worldview, one which posits that France’s high culture is being plundered raw by the online masses. It is a sadly out-of-touch tactic that recalls an old man yelling at the clouds (or, more accurately, cloud computing).

Non-Fiction opens May 10 at the TIFF Lightbox in Toronto.

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