When Catherine Deneuve appears in “The Truth” she isn’t simply in character. She comes in accompanied by a multiplicity of other roles and previous performances, by former directors and co-stars, old loves and scandals and triumphs, all crowding around her like phantoms. That’s often the case now with Deneuve, who, like any enduring star, has become a living testament to her own glory. Even when she’s playing relatively down-to-earth characters, she transcends their ordinary constraints.
In “The Truth,” the Japanese writer-director Hirokazu Kore-eda wittily toys with Deneuve’s persona, its layers and meanings. (This is his first movie outside of Japan.) She plays Fabienne, a figure not unlike herself, or perhaps more like an admirer’s fantasy of a great French star. With decades of fame behind her, Fabienne has reached a waning point. She’s still active and has begun a new film, but she doesn’t have the lead role and now mostly plays the star at home, where she lords over her doting husband and an assistant. When “The Truth” opens, she’s giving an interview, having recently written a memoir (also titled “The Truth”), an imperfect testament to herself.
Like all monuments, Fabienne depends on recognition for stature. The journalist interviewing her isn’t discussing only her history, but also worshiping at an altar that she has long helped maintain. The first line in the movie — “I already answered that question,” Fabienne says tartly — suggests that the interview isn’t going well. Here and throughout “The Truth,” the seemingly spontaneous moment, an aside or look, carries as-yet-undisclosed depth. For while Fabienne is making her interlocutor squirm, her behavior is of a piece with the roles she plays with great fidelity: the imperious star, the oblivious narcissist and occasional, inadvertent comedian.
You grasp just how accidental when the journalist asks “To what actress have you imparted some of your DNA?” Fabienne looks at him, eyebrows arching in a moment that artfully edges toward comedy. “In France, not really anyone,” she says through a screen of cigarette smoke. Kore-eda then cuts to a small group of people walking through what look like woods, their backs to the trailing camera. When they clear the greenery, the image brightens — an effect like theater curtains parting — and you see a young girl with a woman and a man. They’re at the edge of a large garden that will soon become a stage. Only when the woman turns do you see that it’s Juliette Binoche.