An author, a publisher and an actress walk into a bar. No, this isn’t the beginning of a very niche joke; it’s the latest project from French filmmaker Olivier Assayas. We’re transported into the world of Parisian publishing where a novelist (Vincent Macaigne) and his publisher (Guillaume Canet) struggle to come to terms with the changing landscape of their profession, all whilst embroiled in their own extramarital affairs. There is a wry playfulness in Non-Fiction, built on sharp, witty intellect and a genuine passion for the Arts. However, Assayas does little in the way of masking the many discussions on literature and technology that inhabit the majority of the runtime insofar as watching this film is comparable to observing a Philosophy of Arts seminar.
Without much of a plot to speak of, the movie is carried impeccably by its ensemble cast, each demonstrating exquisite comedic timing and believable onscreen chemistry. Macaigne, who plays Léonard, a marginally successful novelist who has just published his latest “auto-fiction” novel, and Nora Hamzawi, his partner Valérie, who he cheats on, are by far the most entertaining to watch bounce off each other, with Macaigne’s bumbling charms and Hamzawi’s straight-talking attitude. Despite his characters’ glaring flaws and immoral behaviour, Assayas’s humorous writing manages to instil them with an unshakeable likeability to ensure we root for them to succeed.
However, witty characters and playful writing alone is not enough to carry this comedy across the finish line. Where there is a lack of narrative drive, there are countless scenes of our characters at bars or social gatherings debating the value of the arts and the advantages and disadvantages digital technology brings to the table. While it’s clear the director cares deeply about these subjects, the Socratic manner in which these all-too-frequent sections are handled are obvious in their transparency, as if Assayas is beating viewers over the head with his own views. What’s worse, though, is all of these discussions and character moments throughout the picture are ultimately discarded for an out-of-nowhere feel-good conclusion that comes across as patronising and lazy.
Non-Fiction is filled with good humour and intriguing discussions that will appeal to those with an interest in contemporary arts. Unfortunately, the film is never sure where to go with these ideas, leaving viewers with an entertaining but unfulfilling experience.
Non-Fiction is released in select cinemas and on demand on 18th October 2019.
Watch the trailer for Non-Fiction here: