This Much I Know To Be True (M, 105 mins) Directed by Andrew Dominik *****
In 2016, I was blindsided by One More Time With Feeling.
Filmmaker Andrew Dominik showed us a Nick Cave we had never seen before. Raw with grief over the death of son Arthur, Cave and wife Susie, with friend and collaborator Warren Ellis, talked, made music and somehow remained committed to the film. At the Saturday night screening I went to, there was absolute silence and then applause as the credits rolled.
I went back to my favorite bar, happy I was under no obligation to review the film. Some nights, “having an opinion”, is fatuous and unnecessary.
* Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness: An odd and quite brave Marvel
* The Velvet Queen: French snow leopard hunt that’s not your average ‘nature doc’
* Downton Abbey: A New Era: A solid cinematic victory lap for the beloved series
* Movie Review: Nick Cave’s One More Time With Feeling
But, as the night went on, I did start to tap something into my phone, which after a couple of hours had become a review of sorts.
The next morning, I fixed a few commas, deleted the more obviously beer-sodden hyperbole and sent it in. To this day, it’s one of a tiny number of pieces I’ve written that I still quite like.
This Much I Know To Be True brings us back to Cave and Ellis in 2021. The rawness has healed, but it is obvious this is still a man who has been changed by the years. Where Cave was once happy to hide in plain sight, contriving people for each new project, since 2015 he has seemed to be at once aged – and yet also invigorated by the necessity to work, to share and to give something honest of himself with every interaction.
This Much I Know To Be True is partly a run-through of material from 2019’s Ghosteen and 2021’s Carnage, as Cave and Ellis ready themselves for a delayed world tour in support of the latter album. A brief, funny and ultimately poignant (“ultimately poignant” is a phrase you reach for a lot, thinking about Nick Cave) introductory scene has Cave introducing his “new career…I’ve retrained” as a ceramicist, creating a life cycle for the Devil out of porcelain. “Here he is as a young boy, off to school”, Cave intones.
These interludes are gorgeously well selected, clearly unscripted and uniformly revealing, even as we laugh and reflect on how the wit is back in Cave’s arsenal, while the cynicism and rebarbative invective seem to have gone forever. A few scenes are strung around Cave’s online project, The Red Hand Files, in which the musician answers questions from readers. “There’s about 38,000 of them to go,” Cave deadpans, and I honestly have no idea if he is joking or not. The project, he says, compels him to make each reply “from a place of compassion.” We perform immediately the process is also gently therapeutic for Cave.
In the studio, an old warehouse of raw concrete and high arch windows, director Dominik and his crew capture performances – unadorned, but beautifully choreographed and lit. Marianne Faithfull appears to contribute a vocal, leading me to wonder at how that coterie of Muppets who run the UK have still not made Faithfull a Dame, at least.
I still miss the Cave we first met; the apocalyptic contrarian with the squalling guitarists who took us from Tupelo to O’Malley’s Bar and the Palaces of Montezuma, but there are flashes of the old fire on some of the Carnage material, especially centerpiece White Elephant and the closer Balcony Man.
Mostly though, this film finds Cave at peace and proclaiming happiness. To have seen it the day after we learned his oldest son Jethro had died in a Melbourne motel, he is unbearably sad. But there is such grace and resilience here, I also don’t doubt that Cave will, again, weave tragedy into something to be shared.
This Much I Know To Be True is screening in select cinemas nationwide.