As diverting as Non Fiction is, you would never want to spend an extended period of time with any of its characters. A cadre of dry, self-serious intellectuals, they’re all having affairs and engaging in ceaseless irrelevant debates about politics and the future of literature. In other words, the cast of an Olivier Assayas French comedy.
It’s a proper ensemble piece, but mainly follows the entangled lives of a venerated publisher (Guillaume Canet), a highly successful actress (Juliette Binoche), and a narcissistic author who can’t write about anything other than himself (Vincent Macaigne). Their conversations are never really laugh out loud funny – a recurring joke about Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon is unlikely to be quoted worldwide – but there’s a wit to them that keeps them pretty engaging.
Assayas is hardly stretching his cast (or himself) here, particularly Binoche, who owns the entire thing effortlessly. Instead, they slot into their roles with ease, letting the dense dialogue flow (without knowing it, it’d be hard to tell that the same writer-director crafted the far more ‘out there’ Personal Shopper). The performances are good, but it is very hard to care about any of these people and their problems, most of which are self-made and none of which threaten them in any tangible way.
It’s also very odd to have a 2018 film feature so much ponderous thought on the impact of e-readers and audiobooks on the world of literature, given that these are so ubiquitous that they are not just the future of books, but its present and also its recent past.
Non Fiction is a film purpose-built to be enjoyed at European festivals, and does that job well, but its appeal to anyone outside of that crowd is surely limited by its aloof characters and self-satisfied sense of humour.
CAST: Juliette Binoche, Guillaume Canet, Vincent Macaigne, Christa Théret
DIRECTOR: Olivier Assayas
WRITER: Olivier Assayas
SYNOPSIS: Set in the Parisian publishing world, an editor and an author find themselves in over their heads, as they cope with a middle-age crisis, the changing industry and their wives.