IFC Films; Directed by: Abbas Kiarostami
I fucking love Abbas Kiarostami. In the era of remakes, endless sequels, comic book adaptations, Michael Bay and James Cameron, he is a breath of fresh air to those viewers craving a more emotionally and intellectually stimulating experience at the movie theater. Kiarostami tells the story of an art critic, James (played by William Shimell) who is in Italy for the release of his latest book. Attending a book reading is a gallery owner, Elle, played masterfully by Juliette Binoche (Caché, The English Patient). She is forced to leave early by her hungry, impatient son but leaves her phone number for James so they can meet up later.
When James comes to her gallery the next day, a strange tale of love, perception and the nature of what is real begins as they take a drive through a small Tuscan town. James’ new book is on the idea of authenticity and forgery in the art world, and how this affects people’s perception of the work is their initial topic of discussion. The two of them clash on this subject so their talk soon strays but often comes back to the same idea. It becomes the critical theme for interpreting the film as a whole.
When the two are mistaken for husband and wife, they begin to role-play the possibility. They bicker and argue like the couple they might have been. This leads them down a road of interactions that delve into their philosophies of life and love, then to a stunning final scene that brings together loose ends in a way that left me in awe of the power of film as an art form. The question of the authentic and the fake is forgotten in this relationship—just like it is forgotten in art—turning to the more important question of how a viewer responds. And just like that, in a meta-movie moment, we are asked to question the nature of these characters playing characters. We can then realize that what really matters is not that the portrayals are real, but how we respond to them. Because they are never real, but just a degree away. This is the kind of movie that inspires me to make films.
This film is beautifully crafted. Each character is important, sometimes in the subtlest of ways. Kiarostami’s sense of pacing is unmatched. In his first feature film made outside of his home country of Iran, he manages to stick to his roots. Incredibly long, nearly static shots and an entire film driven by dialogue and character have become key parts of Kiarostami’s auteur—and one that is utterly refreshing to me as a viewer sick of everything feeling the need to always go-go-go. Kiarostami has the sense to take a step back, to take a drive, to challenge an audience. I have a tremendous amount of respect for that. I’ve never left a film so confused yet so incredibly satisfied.