This film centres on one conversation between two characters as they wander around a beautiful setting. The closest film that springs to mind is Before Sunrise/Sunset, the only difference being that this film thrives on ambiguity.
An English author, James Miller, is in Tuscany to promote a book on authenticity. He joins an unnamed French antiques dealer for a journey through a small town whilst talking art, copies and relationships…
…and the audience tries to figure out whether they are married or just copying being married.
Based on an incident that supposedly happened to the writer and director, Abbas Kiarostami, it has themes of relationships, men and women, absence and art. And depending on your mood, you will either love it or consider it mere film festival dirge.
This whole film is an exercise in ambiguity and artifice – direction, plot, characterisation, sound and image are all utilised. Nothing concrete about the characters’ is given to the audience so when characters say things like “no fixed points of reference” the audience will either already be enraptured in the game or groan at the prospect of more psuedo-intellectual meandering. There are no answers that aren’t undermined. Whether the film really goes anywhere or says anything is down to the audience.
Is Kiarostami being ambiguous so as to fool us into thinking this film is smarter and more meaningful than it actually is?
Maybe. All I can tell you is that he is a giant of Iranian cinema and this is his first European film.
The film does feel like a formal exercise but is visually and aurally enrapturing. The main drive of the film is a sinuous discussion that flows haphazardly from the value of a copy and original through the (possible) charade of the whether the couple are married.
You’ll reach your own conclusion but each shot watches on the two characters, setting up intriguing angles and framing – mirrors showing us the action taking place out of frame, characters talking in English, French or Italian depending on the level of deception they want to play or the emotion involved.
The film features a small cast with most of the acting done by Juliette Binoche who won the best actress award at Cannes in 2008 for her role in this. Her performance is one of different masks and different emotional pitches. Disillusioned lover? Angry wife? Woman in the grip of madness? The film is ambiguous enough to suggest all of these and her performance is good enough to support different theories.
She is ably supported by English baritone, William Shimell. Despite being a bit stiff in scenes, he possesses the kind of weathered, cultured appearance that makes him interesting to watch and he plays with the timbre of his delicious English voice.
I suppose the final shot will mirror much more sceptical audiences: beleaguered and exhausted after being taken for a ride by a director merely playing a game. Myself? I was in an indulgent mood so I just enjoyed the view.