Working for the first time outside of Japan, his new film The Truth (****) – which had its UK premiere at Glasgow Film Festival earlier this week – sees him transpose those skills to the traditions of the French bourgeois comedy and the results are an absolute hoot. Zeroing in on a veteran movie star called Fabienne Dangeville (played with mischievous glee by Catherine Deneuve), the film explores how the imminent publication of her memoirs exacerbates her already fractious relationship with her long-suffering daughter Lumir (an ultra-chic Juliette Binoche).
The problem is that she has whitewashed her life, presenting herself as a good mother and ignoring altogether her role in the tragic demise years earlier of Sarah, her best friend and professional rival, something for which Lumir, who’s visiting from New York with her actor husband Hank (Ethan Hawke) and their young daughter, has never really forgiven her. What’s brilliant here – aside from the cast – is that Kore-eda doesn’t default to serious drama to unpick their dynamic. Building the film around the production of a sci-fi movie that Fabienne is in the process of making, he draws parallels instead between the absurdity of film production and the absurdity of family life, finding rich humour in the way the illusory nature of both has a habit of revealing what really matters.
The Truth was welcome antidote to another of the festival’s highlights. Czech director Václav Marhoul three-hour black-and-white Second World War opus The Painted Bird (****) generated plenty of headlines in the film press last autumn when it inspired mass walk-outs at the Venice Film Festival. Glasgow audiences, however, are clearly made of sterner stuff: only two people left the festival’s first sold-out screening, which is a tribute to the spellbinding effect the film exerts by rigorously dramatising the Holocaust from the perspective of a young Jewish boy (Petr Kotlar) stumbling Odysseus-like across Eastern Europe. As this never-named child encounters monster after monster, he ages before our eyes (literally – the film was shot over several years), but the cumulative effect of the relentless savagery to which he’s subjected functions in the end as a hardcore affirmation of the resilience of the human spirit rather than a series of empty provocations.
Sadly, empty provocation was the driving force of the festival’s surprise movie Promising Young Woman (**). Starring Carey Mulligan as a medical school drop-out on a mission to avenge her best friend following a sexual assault, Killing Eve writer Emerald Fennell’s directorial debut starts entertainingly enough as blackly comic revenge movie for the #MeToo era, but it quickly morphs into an ill-judged exploitation film that doesn’t so much subvert the casual misogyny of the genre as as reinforce its tropes.