Following on from two of Olivier Assayas’ most accomplished films (Clouds of Sils Maria and Personal Shopper), Non-Fiction involves the French auteur delving further into the recurrent themes of consumerism, technology and celebrity in his work. This witty, conversational comedy puts the world of publishing under a microscope, particularly focusing on how digital consumption is transforming the industry and the notion of art itself. While feeling less obviously cinematic than his most recent endeavours, Non-Fiction provides a breezy, perceptive, and very funny portrait of literary publishing in the digital age.
Alain (Guillaume Canet) is a middle-aged book publisher in a rapidly changing industry who’s having an affair with his company’s new digital transition advisor Laure (Christa Théret). In the meantime, his wife Selena (Juliette Binoche), a TV-actress starring in a much-loved cop show, is sleeping with writer Léonard (Vincent Macaigne), whose long-time editor happens to be Alain. Léonard’s latest novel is making waves online due to its salacious autobiographical details of his poorly concealed affair with Selena. Léonard’s own fiercely independent partner Valérie (Nora Hamzawi) is a personal assistant to a socialist politician and bears little interest in her husbands’ situation.
These farcically presented middle-class love affairs generate some strong laughs, but largely act as a platform in which the digitalisation of print media can be interrogated. One of the film’s finest scenes sees Alain and Selena host a dinner party where sharp-witted debates on changing reading habits bounce around the room. Are e-readers actually displacing physical books? Are libraries redundant in the internet age? One particularly resonant debate addresses the danger of online shops anticipating taste – do people engage more with recommendations from companies like Amazon than actual informed criticism?
Non-Fiction’s razor-sharp script is packed to the brim with intelligent, incisive observations on culture. Assayas displays a real grasp and genuine insight into these topics too – this doesn’t feel like listening to your grandparent trying to figure out Twitter. The film is also refreshingly agenda-free, Assayas isn’t fighting anyone’s corner he’s simply facilitating discussion around these loaded issues.
While less visually arresting than Assayas’ previous outings, Non-Fiction is his most comically impressive film to date. A running joke about a sexual act performed in front of Michael Haneke’s White Ribbon is a particular highlight and a playful, self-referential gag about Juliette Binoche smashes through the fourth-wall with hilarious abandon. Bolstered by a quick-witted script, Binoche is on top form here, gleefully delivering zingers left, right, and centre. Hamzawi also shines in a performance full of sardonic wit and savagely droll put-downs.
Non-Fiction sees Assayas operating in more comedic territory with a constantly amusing, nuanced, and insightful mediation on the changing nature of art in a digital world.