An infinite minority.
You know when you go to a get-together and the conversation inevitably turns to current affairs for which everyone has a fringe understanding? So rather than provide true opinions, they simply start regurgitating what they’ve read on the subject. Most times their content doesn’t even come from a primary source because we’ve conditioned ourselves to blindly trust media outlets that paraphrase, parse, and filter through their own personalized political agenda. Fact therefore becomes a stepping-stone towards editorial and that editorial suddenly becomes a stand-in for the facts. The words being spoken at that party aren’t thus a conversation at all, but the parroting of unseen opportunists with little possibility of achieving middle ground or purpose beyond filling the silence with seemingly interesting philosophical ruminations devoid of real investment.
This is Olivier Assayas‘ Doubles vies [Non-Fiction] in a nutshell. There are multiple characters who interact with often duplicitous motives by waxing on and on about the changing nature of existence thanks to the internet’s ubiquity. Their subjects include topics like the definition of the author, the ownership of shared experiences, and the evolving landscape of art in a post-capitalist world that forces artists to compromise vision in order to appease their audience. It’s all pretty relevant stuff with the room for captivating argumentation and yet Assayas is happy to merely let it float in the air without ever truly engaging. These pseudo intellectual Parisians present theses, state bias, and move on. It’s like Assayas wrote them with the same algorithms that he says have replaced taste-making critics.
It’s not therefore about the people themselves as much as the boring narcissism that rules them. Does it matter if Alain and Selena (Guillaume Canet and Juliette Binoche), Léonard and Valérie (Vincent Macaigne and Nora Hamzawi), and outlier Laure (Christa Théret) have a mix of romantic, professional, and sordid connections amongst them? No. The pragmatic ways in which they approach their relationships and willingly ignore deceit to maintain apple cart integrity is duller than the conversations being shared to both justify and dismantle their reasoning. Every affair ends up being more about placing two characters together to talk about a topic that wouldn’t come up separately with two other people than attraction or love. They’re (mostly out-of-touch) pawns serving Assayas’ weirdly reductive commentary on the current generational divide.
They’re hypocrites too. Léonard loves to thinly veil his mistresses’ identities in his “auto-fictional” novels and yet quickly turns despondent when anyone dares to be as harshly judgmental about him to his face. Alain knows his “forward-thinking” nature has helped the publishing company he runs adapt to the industry’s roller coaster path forward and yet embraces his role as gatekeeper with a smug smile when disagreeing with the people he’s hired to keep him up-to-date. And Selena can’t stand how rote her acting career has become on the same television show everyone dismissively treats like the cop procedural it is and yet craves that familiar status quo at home. Thankfully Valérie and Laure break this mold by doing what they desire without compromise no matter the inherent frustrations.
Those latter two aren’t victims nor do they pretend they are. They embrace roles that accept what’s happening to them and their part in what’s happening to others. They exist to serve a purpose like the rest, but without necessarily asking us to pity them since they’re the ones dictating terms rather than receiving them. Sadly this doesn’t make them more interesting since autonomy isn’t enough. We can respect them more, but that doesn’t render the flat canvas they’re tethered to three-dimensional—especially when they’re forever secondary to the big three of Alain, Selena, and Léonard. So we’re left to watch them stand strong as the others disagree with their assertions while standing atop their own personal soapboxes. No one learns anything or escapes their over-arching synthetic prison.
I guess that’s Assayas’ goal? To show how we’re all trapped within an increasingly smaller planet fed with buzzwords and advertising where news and facts used to live. That’s why he lets old men shake their fists at the clouds of digital technology while the youth grow tired of being ignored. That’s why he talks about blogging being literary and not; acting being fulfilling and not; creativity being dictated by life because imagination can’t exist when we become slaves to content above thought. He uses meta-narrative devices as comedy, name-drops to provoke like Léonard, and provides just two scenes of real dramatic weight (coincidentally both concerning break-ups). Everything is thus inside joke fodder, but I guess I’m not an inner circle member who knows enough to actually laugh.
Maybe if the characters were drawn with authenticity I’d care about who they are and find myself wanting to delve deeper into what they’re saying, but their shallowness only reveals the shallowness of their words. Assayas forces them to simply speak their convoluted lines as though they have personalities able to support their points—if they even have points. I honestly think he found himself in a headspace of confusion as the film industry shifts away from its archaic, theater experience past and needed a quick outlet to vomit his emotions, anger, and curiosity. By desperately hoping to stay relevant (Alain), he creates an “auto-fiction” of his own that substitutes publishing for cinema (Léonard), and pretends the result is more than it truly is (Selena’s show).
 Juliette Binoche as “Selena” and Guillaume Canet as “Alain Danielson” in Olivier Assayas’s Non-Fiction. Courtesy of IFC Films. A Sundance Selects Release.
 Vincent Macaigne as “Léonard Spiegel” in Olivier Assayas’s Non-Fiction. Courtesy of IFC Films. A Sundance Selects Release.
 Juliette Binoche as “Selena” in Olivier Assayas’s Non-Fiction. Courtesy of IFC Films. A Sundance Selects Release.