"Everything must change so that everything can stay the same." This is a line referenced in Non-Fiction from Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's novel The Leopard, and it proves a likely thesis statement for the film. Written and directed by Olivier Assayas, Non-Fiction is a comedy of witticisms set amongst Parisian bourgeois comfort. It's characters talk endlessly about technology and how its changing the way we take in information and these conversations are handled in slyly reflexive ways. The film could've very well devolved into the kind of old-man-yells-at-cloud platitudes we hear about technology all the time, but Assayas proves a more deft handler of these conversations than most.
The film begins with Alain (Guillaume Canet) and Leonard (Vincent Macaigne) who work in the literary industry as a publisher and author respectively. Their relationship becomes somewhat strained when Alain breaks the news to Leonard that he isn't going to publish his latest manuscript. The discussions they have about the changing trends in literature pertaining to E-books and audiobooks and the growing concerns for physical media are exhaustively repetitive but to a point. Leonard, who's an endearingly pitiful character, describes his writing as "auto-fiction" when it's clearly autobiographical to those who know him. He mines his writing material from the string of affairs he seems to have had over the years. Amusingly, he doesn't think his wife (Nora Hamzawi), who is often away for work, suspects anything. Juliette Binoche plays Alain's wife, Selena, who does suspect her husband is having an affair but doesn't look into it.
Most of the film's characters prove to be deceitful and yet the parties affected end up appearing less than concerned. Selena rationalizes the likelihood of her husband's unfaithfulness by suggesting that this kind of change is only inevitable after twenty years of marriage and that it doesn't mean the end of the relationship. The aforementioned quote from The Leopard, which is brilliantly paradoxical, can be woven into this psychology but more directly into the film's meditation on an industry that is forced to deal with the economic realities of a changing information landscape. And yet, with Assayas' choice to shoot this on 16 millimeter film, as well as a bit of information near the film’s end indicating a recent spike in the American book sale market, things are sometimes never too far away from staying the same.
Non-Fiction is screening as part of the Alliance Française’s French Film Festival which is taking place at Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas from March 21 to April 18. For tickets and session information, head to palacenova.com.au.
Header image via Vimooz.com