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Doubles vies
Double Lives
First run Theater cinema

The latest from prolific French writer/director Olivier Assayas (Summer Hours, Something In The AirClouds of Sils Maria) is a comedy of manners set in the elite world of Parisian publishing. It explores how the digital revolution, social media, and the speed of change in the marketplace of ideas are upending that industry—and transforming politics, personal interactions, the fabric of society, and pretty much everything else. It’s a breathlessly verbal movie in which the characters debate intellectual concepts with such rapidity and confidence we’d find it exhausting were it not for their rather laid back affect, and the simplicity of the filmmaking; it is both calming and oddly exhilarating. 

Vincent Macaigne (Eden, Two Friends, News from Planet Mars) plays Léonard, a controversial writer of “autofiction”—novels that thinly disguise the truth of his personal exploits and love affairs. His long time editor Alain, played by Guillaume Canet (The Beach, Love Me If You Dare, Joyeux Noël), no longer wants to publish him, perhaps because he suspects that the affair described in Léonard’s latest book is with his own wife Selena, (played by Assayas’s most frequent leading lady, the great Juliette Binoche). Selena correctly suspects Alain of having an affair as well, with the young woman named Laure (Christa Théret) whom he’s hired to help his publishing house adapt and transition to the digital age. The last major character is Léonard’s wife, Valérie (French comedian Nora Hamzawi in her first dramatic role), a left-wing political consultant who may be the only character who is not having an affair and, perhaps not coincidentally, is also the only one who seems truly passionate and committed to her beliefs.  

All this bed hopping amongst bohemian intellectuals is standard French comedy fare, but Non-Fiction, despite its humorous take on these characters, is not farce or satire. It is a sharp observational piece with a dry wit that feels timeless in its themes yet explores a pressing concern of the immediate moment—whether technology and commerce have reached a tipping point, and are now destroying art and civilization itself rather than democratizing it.

The story unfolds in a conventional, matter-of-fact way. Assayas eschews any kind of flashy techniques and shoots on 16mm film, which gives the proceedings an unmistakably old-fashioned, analogue quality. There are many inside jokes, contemporary references, and even meta moments, but everything is conveyed through dialogue. The film is overflowing with great lines, from characters who often contradict what they say from one scene to the next—it demands a second viewing to decide where you personally would come down were you part of any of these discussions. The emotions of the characters, on the other hand, come through with palpable clarity. There’s no question that this film is firmly on the side of its flawed protagonists, and viewers will find themselves relating to each of them at different moments. Assayas’s deft touch makes a light, bubbly cocktail out of ingredients that in lesser hands could be ponderous and pedantic.

Twitter Capsule:
Assayas' sharp, engrossing comedy of manners set in the elite world of Parisian publishing, explores the spoken thoughts and suppressed feelings of readers, writers, and publishers in the digital age.  

Directed by Olivier Assayas
Produced by Charles Gillibert

Written by Olivier Assayas

With: Guillaume Canet, Juliette Binoche, Vincent Macaigne, Christa Théret, and Nora Hamzawi

Cinematography: Yorick Le Saux
Editing: Simon Jacquet

Runtime: 108 min
Release Date: 03 May 2019
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1