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‘Double lives’: the delicious French art of adultery

At first glance, ‘Double lives’ offers an attentive x-ray of the earthquakes that digital culture is generating in the world of bibliographic publishing and literary creation. Alain (a very suitable Guillaume Canet ) is a middle-aged publisher in charge of a firm with a historical catalog and enormous prestige. Now he finds himself at the crossroads of adapting the publishing house to the new times ( decrease in sales, electronic book, generations less and less accustomed to reading on paper…), but he does not want to give up that historical way of understanding culture who has always presided over his work. In the film’s prologue, we see him attending to one of his habitual authors, Leonard ( Vincent Macaigne), who ends up announcing that he rejects his new manuscript. In addition to highlighting how elegantly civilized a Parisian intellectual sends someone to hell without staining their fingers, this introduction introduces the film’s other male lead, a relatively successful self-fiction writer who subsists in part on the salary of His couple.

The publisher Alain and the writer Leonard represent the two poles of a publishing world in a period of crisis. They are no longer young but neither are they old, so they are faced with a paradigm shift that affects their way of understanding the world at a time when they still have a certain capacity for adaptation. In the first part of ‘Double lives’, Assayas chains around him various conversations and situations that reflect these changes. Alain debates with his colleagues and younger assistants the pros and cons of digital globalization: has Google’s algorithm replaced literary critic as prescriber?Do people write more and better even if it is on the internet? Are tweets the haikus of the 21st century? Does the internet represent a democratic utopia that offers free access to all the knowledge in the world or, on the contrary, represents a device of capitalism? global that appropriates all our knowledge to turn it into a commodity?

Leonard, for his part, verifies in his own flesh that encounters with the public have lost their one-way status (people listening attentively and full of admiration to a writer) and have acquired a new character since readers have no problem reproaching an author any matter and incidentally echo the controversies generated around his work on social networks.

Juliette Binoche plays an actress who has carved out her career in the theater to star in a police television series

The debates that the film VF explodes are well known, but Assayas knows how to unfold them with his usual literary finesse, cultural depth and rhythmic fluidity. Thus, the film develops in its first part as a panoramic view of this literary world in crisis that advances from dialogues, although at times the dialectic is too polarized between apocalyptic and integrated. As a complement to this change of cultural paradigm, Selena ( Juliette Binoche ), Alain’s wife, plays an actress who has parked her career in the theater to star in a police television series of those “that always have very good reviews”, such as she points out somewhat derisively herself.

Far from delving into a possible drama around the decline of the publishing world as we knew it, ‘Double lives’ is gradually moving towards the terrain of sophisticated comedy of entanglements. Already in its first part, the film is full of subtle jokes about the intelligentsia, for example at the cost of the concept of self-fiction. As if he wanted to remove gravity from that typically Parisian environment of heroes of culture who hold high discussions with a glass of red wine in hand, Assayas reveals to us the troubles, double lives and deceits that the characters get into. All without losing that typically French composure before the art of adultery. As the film becomes a vaudeville of high culture, the director also seems to confirm that the progressive change towards the digital paradigm does not lead to an immediate and absolute apocalypse either.

The film gradually becomes a vaudeville of high culture

Olivier Assayas has always been interested in the mutations caused by the new digital paradigm. In ‘ Demonlover ‘ he made them the center of a science fiction ‘thriller’, while in his previous film ‘Personal Shopper’ he raised the extent to which it is possible to shoot a ghost film in the internet age and gave us an excellent Spectral Siege Scene via SMS. At the same time, his work is marked by the awareness of connecting with an idea of  culture with a long historical history but an uncertain future. His films reveal his own inheritance with some kind of artistic tradition, either through explicit quotes to film references such as in ‘Irma Vep’ or ‘Journey to Sils Maria’ or through reflection on the theme of legacy as in ‘Summer hours’.

‘Double lives’ connects these two concerns of French filmography, and at times the film functions as its profession of faith to that concept of culture that until recently seemed immutable. Instead, that turn towards comedy is a novelty in his career. And while it is always appreciated that a director explores other records, his vaudeville streak is not entirely convincing. ‘Double lives’ finds its best moments when the juicy debate around the change of cultural paradigm is balanced with the ironic demystification of the members of that world.

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