This romantic drama from Iranian writer-director Abbas Kiarostami closely resembles a middle-aged version of “Before Sunset.” It is a meandering talkfest that observes the differences between men and women in philosophies of life, perceptions of reality and needs within a romantic relationship.
The movie is set in Tuscany, Italy. It opens on a Saturday with English author James Miller (operatic baritone William Shimell) giving a presentation on his latest book that has the same title as the movie. An attractive woman (Juliette Binoche from “The English Patient” and “Chocolat”), who is never named in the film, sits down in the front row. Her impatient 12-year-old son is bored by the lecture and wants to get a bite to eat. She leaves the address of her antiquities shop for the speaker.
James shows up the next day at her shop. He tells her he has all day, but has to be at the train station by nine o’clock. They appear to be complete strangers meeting for the first time. They end up spending the day together.
They take a half-hour drive from Arezzo to Lucignano. On the ride over, she mentions her sister Marie and has him autograph several copies of his book.
We learn that she has been married for 15 years. She is originally from France, but has lived in Italy for five years. It turns out that she went to Lucignano as a newlywed and spent her wedding night there.
The movie is a perplexing, plotless exercise in perception. The guiding principle at work is whether we are observing a genuine, authentic and original marital relationship or merely a replica of two people pretending to be husband and wife.
Upon arriving in Lucignano, they walk down the streets, go to a museum and sit at a table in a café. When their cups of coffee arrive, James goes outside to take a call on his cell phone.
The female owner of the establishment remarks to Binoche’s character that she can tell that James is a good husband. Binoche remarks that she didn’t get married to live alone and that her husband is only into himself and his job. When James comes back inside and sits down, Kiarostami flips a switch and suddenly they behave like they really are a married couple.
The small talk that came before this abrupt about-face is replaced with serious emotional discussions. She accuses him of being a bad husband and an absent father. He tells her she is never in a good mood. Their conversations switch from English to French.
The final reel is set in the same hotel room where she remembers spending her wedding night. The mysterious ending leaves the audience pondering whether James will be seduced into spending the night or return to the station to catch his train.
Some viewers may think they need to watch this movie a second time to figure out the intriguing story strands. Others will feel like they have wasted their time and money on the endless conversations between these two characters.
I believe the movie is ambiguous on purpose. The director is having fun playing games with the underlying reality. It really doesn’t matter if James is the woman’s husband or pretending to play along. The movie is acting as mirror for self-examination. It appears the director’s goal is to get the viewer to see themselves in a new light
This bizarre highbrow film is strictly geared for art houses. It is instantly forgettable, but Binoche gives an amazing performance. She won the best actress award for this role at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. You can’t beat the scenery of Tuscany. The dialogue is partially in French and Italian with English subtitles. Now playing exclusively at the Leawood and Tivoli in Westport.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"