Juliette Binoche won the Best Actress Award at this years Cannes Film Festival for her performance in this intriguing film. She does indeed give an amazing performance, able to change from comic face-pulling to quiet glances and watery eyes in an instant and displaying an openness throughout that is endearing and heartbreaking. It's interesting to read that the genesis of the film came when director Abbas Kiarostami told Binoche the synopsis for the film as an anecdote which she believed as true. He then confessed to having made it up but that willingness to believe is integral to the film he went on to make after several years of struggles to get production under way. One of the problems was to find the right man to star opposite her with several actors beginning to film or slated to do it, including Robert De Niro at one point, until Kiarostami came to direct an opera and worked with baritone William Schimell, later commenting, "When I saw him, I immediately perceived in him the strength, finesse and humour of the character." Perhaps only in the world of opera was he likely to find someone capable of switching from English to French to Italian with the ease employed by Shimell, but for a début film performance he acquits himself more than adequately, particularly opposite someone of Binoche's experience in what turned out to be a prize-winning performance.
Why is the film so intriguing? Well, because it isn't easy to be sure of even the basic synopsis. In Tuscany a gallery owner (Binoche) meets an academic James Miller (Shimell) who is an expert on copies in art. He signs his latest book for her and then agrees to accompany her on a drive. Later they are mistaken for a couple and the pair pretend to have been married for many years and their dialogue plays with this very notion. If Miller's work concerns the ambiguities of original and copy, authentic and fake, then the conversation between the two of them covers similar ground with regard to relationships; what is real, what is pretend? In a village where a wedding is taking place the two of them converse, laugh, bicker and fight. Just like a real married couple. And this is where it gets tricky, because perhaps they are and those early scenes where they appeared to be meeting are in fact the false conversation, an elaborate piece of role-play for a couple whose marriage is fading. There is no definitive answer and my wife and I are still not close to agreeing with each other about what's closest to the truth (oh, the irony), which all goes to show how successfully Kiarostami has realised his original idea.
This is not a film for everyone. It is simply shot with almost all the dialogue coming from the two stars and the language changing frequently. It is slow too, but you might be thankful for that as you attempt to piece together what's real and what's performance. I've been intrigued by notions of authenticity in fiction in the past and it was interesting to see them toyed with so effectively in film, the medium perhaps best suited to explore them.