An author an his nameless companion spend an afternoon immersed in an imitation marriage, a certifiably tumultuous affair, an emotional tsunami that destroys preconceptions and expectations. Writer and Director Abbas Kiarostami deftly navigates the murky terrain of affection and passion, a puzzling odyssey that leaves both characters (and audience) pondering seemingly vacuous terms of endearment.
The plot is fairly simple: James Miller is a writer who responds to a note of a female admirer (wistfully performed by Juliette Binoche). The two then begin a casual journey of interlocutory attraction before their playful dialogue becomes choleric, questioning the veracity of this seemingly innocuous affair. Kiarostami manipulates the tropes of the typical romantic independent film, anticipating probabilities before reconstructing the narrative into an intimate fallacy. Kiarostami seemingly focuses on a potential love story between beautiful strangers, a writer and antique dealer, whose differing opinions will lead them towards love’s delightful embrace: from the uncomfortable silences of first attraction which finally end in a hotel room, their desires irresponsibly quenched.
The story’s axis balances on the mundane dialogue and participatory travelogue, a zero momentum whose kinetic energy eventually clashes and catapults the two into competing vectors. Many viewers are lost in the puzzle as we begin to realize that these two characters have met before. After they are mistaken for a married couple it becomes evident that there is some unspoken (more importantly, some untold element that Kiarostami purposely conceals) dilemma that haunts this tempestuous relationship.
Are they married? This is the superficial question that the film is designed to deconstruct, to confound expectations. We are given a few clues, both verbal and non-verbal, that reveal that she is a mistress who hasn’t seen him for many months (years?) and has born his child. The woman remains nameless throughout the film and this fact divulges an insight into James’ spurious nature: she opens her heart to him demanding to be loved and he is closed off, an imitation husband. Kiarostami seems to imply that their physical coupling (and its byproduct) is a certified copy of a marriage that carries the same responsibilities and emotional baggage. The film ends with reflection and introspection and offers James no easy answer to his ethical conundrum.
Final Grade: (B+)