Directed by Abbas Kiarostami
Ranking among his finest game-playing, Abbas Kiarostami's newest film fulfills the genuine strangeness of its title with a mesmerizing take on lived experience. Like a Marienbad in real-time, the Tuscany-set two-hander maintains a bizarre but deeply felt suspense: what exactly is, or was, or will be, the relationship between the characters played by Juliette Binoche and William Shimell? She shows up at his book reading, and the two go for a drive—which goes from exploratory tête-à-tête to bickering couple outing to moving elegy d'amour.
Tracking the pair's rapport, Kiarostami withholds definitive cues from the audience, even as the sleight-of-hand seems to happen aboveboard. He uses vividly lit (or underlit) head-on shots—of Binoche in high-reactive mode, of opera baritone Shimell in suitable cine-debut oblivion—and smooth uninterrupted handheld sequences that have the jet-laggy continuity of a stopover tour. For the viewer, it's not just a fresh tweak on the unwitting collaboration of voyeurism but an appropriately maddening representation of how the two halves of a couple constantly encounter multiple versions of each other, past and present.
Neither Binoche nor Shimell leaves (can leave?) the stage for long in an odd-coupled performance that sounded, from some Cannes reports, doomed. But the actors together blend artifice and intuition in putting across a beguiling, Oliveiran sense of suspended reality. (The spirit of French-Basque novelist Marie Darrieussecq somehow shadows the film; the author of White and, appropriately, My Phantom Husband mysteriously provides a ruminative introduction in the notes distributed to press.) An apt comment heard at one screening: "For a while I felt as if the movie was reading my mind."
Opens March 11