An esteemed English author named James Miller (William Shimell) has written a book on the value of copies versus original works of art. After presenting his theories at a lecture in Italy, he’s approached by an unnamed fan (Juliette Binoche) from the audience who gives him her address, and the next day they meet and take a drive to a local village. She remarks on her delight at being in his car and politely requests his autograph on a few copies of his book. While in the village, they discuss various works of art found in the area, while also discussing their blossoming relationship. What at first is clearly a meeting of strangers reaches a crucial turning point in a café when the proprietor pulls the woman aside and asks how long the pair have been married…and she responds “15 years”.
From that point on, the conversation between the pair takes on the tone of a longtime couple who have a resigned acceptance of each other that could only be earned by a lengthy relationship. They don’t exactly bicker, but the spark of initial attraction so evident in the first half of the film has long been replaced by the dim glow of extended cohabitation. Viewers are left to wonder if the pair were pretending in the first half or the second, questioning which relationship is real and which is the copy.
While the massive plot twist, or rather sea change, may sound pretentious and entirely too arty, the exquisite performances by the leads and the engrossing conversations between their characters kept this viewer spellbound from beginning to end. Sure, I spent a bit of time trying to solve the mystery of the true nature of their relationship, but ultimately I put it aside and just thoroughly enjoyed their fascinating interplay regardless of their marital status. It doesn’t hurt that their conversations take place in extremely charming locations in picturesque Tuscany and in three different languages, giving the proceedings an entirely European feel.
Veteran Iranian writer/director Abbas Kiarostami, in his first dramatic feature made outside of his homeland, makes a completely seamless transition to his new stage. Binoche is great in her role, offering inquisitive intelligence and emotional depth. While too frequently she plays characters with tortured lives, she almost visibly glows in this mostly pleasant, contemplative role. Shimell, a professional opera singer with limited film experience, contributes a wise, occasionally bemused presence that comes off a bit like George Clooney. He’s perfectly cast and completely effective, making a strong case for continuing his acting forays outside of the opera house. The two actors carry the entire film, appearing in every scene and with no other support aside from very brief interactions with passersby who enter their orbit.
The film was shot digitally and mastered directly to disc with no analog steps in between and thus required no restoration work, making the Blu-ray image presented here seemingly as flawless as originally filmed. There’s not much channel separation evident on the DTS 5.1 Master Audio soundtrack, but the subtle Tuscan environmental effects slightly expand the soundscape. The bonus features are anchored by the inclusion of Kiarostami’s rarely seen 1977 feature film The Report that deals with similar themes. Unfortunately, it was assembled from the subpar remaining elements available such as a well-used and unrestored theatrical print, making it such a marked quality contrast to the completely pristine and beautifully photographed new film that I couldn’t bear to watch it. Elsewhere, there’s a new interview with Kiarostani as well as a brief Italian documentary on the making of the film including interviews with Kiarostani, Binoche, and Shimell.