TIFF Review: Olivier Assayas’ ‘Non-Fiction’ is full of ideas but lacking in substance


Editor’s Note: Vanyaland’s Nick Johnston is north of the border all week long for the Toronto International Film Festival; click here for our continued coverage from the fest and also check out our official preview.

To say that Olivier Assayas’ Non-Fiction is the most boring film that the master director’s released over the last decade feels fair, but to suggest it’s his worst is a bit of an overstatement. It’s more like the cinematic equivalent of clearing one’s throat in between songs: A thing you just have to do in order to ensure that your voice remains clear. Floating somewhere in the Gaulois-scented mucas is a film that’s ostensibly about a publisher (Guillaume Canet) and his actress wife (Juliette Binoche) and their affairs — him with a future-oriented strategist (Christa Theret) at his publishing house, her with an author (Vincent Macaigne) whose latest manuscript her husband has turned down for being an explicit tell-all — but is more just a wordy take on the “Old Man Yells At Cloud” meme.

Yes, the director of Cold Water and Irma Vep would like you to know that he is concerned about e-books. Oh, joy.

Ostensibly a comedy, there are some jokes that land, like a running gag about the writer getting a blowjob in a theater while watching Haneke’s The White Ribbon and the unforeseen difficulties that causes with his wife and, later, a radio host, but they’re few and far in-between, and Assayas just can’t help himself when it comes to the diatribes. Every character speaks in perfectly composed platitudes when they’re not talking about the spouses they’re cheating on or the mistresses they’re fucking, and the subjects they circle — publishing, tech, politics — never build to anything substantial.

It’s not so much an exploration of these concepts as much as just their base articulation, an acknowledgement of its creator’s fears more than a realization of them. Still, one can’t fault Assayas for making a film like this after two decade-defining masterpieces in his K-Stew collaborations Personal Shopper and Clouds of Sils Maria: Sometimes you just have to get this shit out there.

Follow Nick Johnston on Twitter @onlysaysficus. Featured image courtesy of TIFF.