Somewhere in an interview I can no longer find, William Shimell described his surprise at being approached by Kiarostami for a film, saying something along the lines of "I'm not an actor; I'm an opera singer!" (This is both overly self-deprecatory, and, I think, a false dichotomy, although it might say something about the dramatic training of opera singers.) Kiarostami, for his part, reiterated his modus operandi of looking for interesting faces and malleable material. As revealed in the natural light and frequent closeups of the film, Shimell does indeed have an interesting face: elegant, not-quite-haggard. His character, an English essayist, starts off suave and faintly sardonic, with a strong suggestion of buried unease. This unease becomes increasingly evident, to the point of being explosive, but is never really explained. Binoche, meanwhile, seethes with doubt and anger and--need I say it?--passionate sensuality.
The premise that two strangers should invent an elaborate scenario in order to explore personal and philosophical truth (are they complete strangers? how much of the scenario is invention?) seems improbable, but I don't think that's the point. I bristled more than once at apparent assumptions about the nature of male-female communication, but the lines between the assumptions of the film and the assumptions of its characters, are--like so many other elements in it--imperfectly clear. Bristling notwithstanding, I did enjoy the questions the film engaged with: questions of art and subjectivity, individual history and the art of building relationships, and not least the power of language to clarify and obscure. I found the film almost too resolutely irresolute, but an interesting experiment. I thought Shimell's performance stylish and aptly understated (memo to the world: opera singers can act!) And Juliette Binoche is gorgeous and incredible and I love her.