With international darling Juliette Binoche as the star, opera singer William Shimell making his screen debut, a Tuscan backdrop and revered auteur Abbas Kiarostami directing, this has arthouse hit written all over it. The romantic fable of love, marriage, art and second chances may not add up to all that much but the journey is exquisite. Audiences in the know will stand in line.
Abbas Kiarostami, who was the Cannes' 1997 Palme d'Or winner for A Taste of Cherry, made his new film in English (which he speaks), and French and Italian (which he has yet to perfect). That may explain part of the film's oddball nature. It is the first feature he has made outside his native Iran and also the first with a star the stature of Juliette Binoche.
Set in Tuscan village cafes and churches, he depicts an intense encounter between a man and a woman who have never met. At least that is the premise, but doubts creep in.
Binoche plays a Frenchwoman who runs an antique gallery in the village. The British baritone William Shimell, who had never acted in a movie, plays an art scholar who comes to give a talk about the relationship between the real and the fake: how a copy may actually have its own beauty and shed light on the original.
After his lecture Binoche's character suddenly appears, and as they are having coffee, she seems to cast him as a man out of her past.
Binoche's character gives the feeling of being on the run. Possibly she has retreated to Tuscany to find refuge from something upsetting. Her 10 year old son, who is a tad precocious, suggests she is dreaming of falling in love again. This woman seems sensual and easygoing on the outside but underneath she is a bundle of contradictions.
The couple spends time together exploring churches and courtyards, the camera lingering on the beauty of the Tuscan countryside and architecture. A café owner assumes they are married and delivers some philosophical words of wisdom to the woman about the difficulties of marriage. The man returns from a phone call to find the two women chattering away in Italian about the conduct of husbands in general. The café owner addresses him as if he was her spouse, and includes him in the conversation.
By this time your patience may be stretched to the limit, or more likely you will have been seduced by the delicate conundrum. Kiarostami, who has created a portrait of a couple from the inside out, certainly poses more questions and puzzles than he provides answers for but that is part of the charm of this enigma of a film.
Distributor: IFC Films
Cast: Juliette Binoche, William Shimell, Adrian Moore, Gianna Giachetti, Jean-Claude Carrière, Agathe Natanson
Director/Screenwriter: Abbas Kiarostami
Producers: Angelo Barbagallo, Marin Karmitz, Charles Gillibert, Nathanaël Karmitz, Abbas Kiarostami
Running time: 106 min
Release date: March 11 NY