Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Parisian Rendezvous

The films of Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda are graceful meditations on memory and the inextricable connections that bind our lives together. Whether transporting us to a way station in the afterlife or into a household in crisis, his character studies have solidified his reputation as one of contemporary cinema’s most sensitive humanists. With his latest movie, The Truth, he expands the scope of his filmography beyond his native country. Starring Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche, the film centers on the relationship between an aging Parisian actress, who is preparing to publish her memoirs, and her daughter, who returns to France for the occasion, with her American husband (Ethan Hawke) and young child. Reunited under one roof, the characters grapple with their clouded memories, lingering resentments, and unanswered questions. In the lead-up to the release of The Truth, I spoke with the director on two separate occasions about the experience of making a movie abroad and the influence French cinema has had on his work. Here are highlights from our conversations.

I’m curious what kinds of films you grew up watching and if international cinema was part of your early moviegoing.

I still think fondly of when I was a child and would watch movies with my mother—things like Hitchcock’s Rebecca, classic American movies. When I began watching by myself, I was into the American New Wave films, like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. By the time I went to university my initial plan was to be an author. I wanted to write novels, so I hadn’t been thinking about making movies, but it was at that time that I started watching Fellini, which changed the course of my life. I started with Italian neorealism and then later got caught up in the nouvelle vague. Those directors inspired me, and that is what has led me to working with the French.

Do you remember what went through your mind the first time you saw Catherine Deneuve on-screen?

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg was the first time I saw her. I couldn’t believe that such a beautiful human being existed. But even before having an impression of her, I was just shocked that you could have a film that was all music, where the dialogue was all lyrics.

And had you been a longtime admirer of Juliette Binoche as well?

For my generation, Juliette appeared very much as a muse of French cinema, especially because of her work with Leos Carax. As a director, I find her appealing because she’s very good at performing in silence. Even when she’s completely quiet she’s able to express a range of emotions with her eyes and her face.

She’s known for cultivating relationships with filmmakers like Michael Haneke, Olivier Assayas, Claire Denis, and Hou Hsiao-hsien. How did you first meet, and did she initiate the collaboration?

The first time I met her was in Paris in 2008. We ate sushi, and she told me how much she loves Nobody Knows and talked about how she wanted to work with me on a project. She seemed quite direct and passionate about it. Juliette is someone who likes to have a lot of conversations with the directors of the films she’s in, and I enjoy that process. We had many opportunities to get to know each other before the script was written, and we would talk a lot about what it is to be an actor and how she started at a very young age. Those conversations were reflected in the scriptwriting process. She told me that the difference between professional and nonprofessional actors is that a professional actor takes something that has no life and breathes life into it. And that’s what she did when we began working together.

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