With his previous film, Personal Shopper, Olivier Assayas had the supernatural communicate primarily through digital technology. The subject of digital technology is still at the forefront of his mind if his latest film, a comedy set in the world of publishing, is anything to go by. Far more grounded, Non-Fiction sees the director operating in a different mode to Personal Shopper’s atmospheric, techno-ghost thriller. Here he prefers an almost Rohmerian construction of intellectual conversations carried off by a group of gently ridiculous philanderers played by a range of French stars, including Juliette Binoche, Guillaume Canet and Vincent Macaigne.
Assayas himself has said that this is the kind of French film that people warn you about: a film in which people sit around talking; talking in busy cafes and fashionable bars, at bourgeois parties and at pleasant beach houses. Non-Fiction has its characters discuss the effects of Twitter, ebooks and the future of criticism on a troubled industry. They debate the effect of the algorithms that chew up data and spit out suggestions and the extent to which publishers and broadcasting commissioners are inclined to listen to those algorithms.
The film itself takes up no definite positions on the topics argued within. Even the characters chop and change their minds depending upon who they are arguing with. However, the grainy 16mm film on which Non-Fiction is shot provides an indication that Assayas has at least some sympathy for the old ways, whilst his depiction of a bed-hopping intelligentsia serves as a reassuring reminder that people are people. Indeed, for a film in which everybody is het up about the ways in which technology will irrevocably change the world, Non-Fiction’s concluding grace note is a seismic revelation of the most biological nature.