Eli Hayes’s review published on Letterboxd:
This film stunned me... I had no idea how emotionally powerful it would be; it is also either an enigma or a puzzle - in my opinion, most likely the latter. I'm not here to convince you about the "truth" behind this film, because there is no true-truth behind it. I'm not sure that's what Kiarostami intended. Either way, it's one of the most beautiful commentaries on the power of filmmaking and art and imitations of life that I've ever seen.
I was crying throughout the last ten or fifteen minutes over what is, in my opinion, something fake within something fake (their relationship). Often we do shed tears over the "fake": that's just something that we do as movie lovers. But this film is a double fake, making it all the more fascinating, but absolutely no less compelling. I hate to do this, and I usually only do it when I watch films like this, Under the Skin, The Babadook, Enemy, etc. but I have to warn spoilers for this review because I want to explain the theory of this film being more of a puzzle than an enigma. I'll try do it concisely though and draw upon just a few points of evidence, but seemingly strong points from what I can gather.
If you've seen the film, you know that it gradually becomes something different as it moves along. It begins a film that appears on the surface to be about two strangers, two people who don't see each other very often. The film gradually tries to disprove this by transforming into a film about two individuals who have in fact been married for the last fifteen years, and I'll be damned if the finale doesn't sell the shit out of this second potential reality, but the most heartbreaking aspect of it all is that it is the former that is actually true.
In truth, Elle is James' mistress, not his wife. Her son is in fact his, conceived years ago at some point after they first met (fifteen years ago), but he hasn't been present in their lives. He also seems to have a wife elsewhere, but Elle is still deeply in love with him and wishes that they were together (notice her interest in weddings throughout the film). He steps outside of the cafe at one point to speak to someone, a person that I believe was probably his wife, and the woman in the cafe says to Elle: "He has a mistress, that's why you are looking at him." She responds strangely because she is in fact the mistress being spoken of. Also take note of the discussion between Elle and her son about the boy's surname; these ideas aren't just thrown into the film - details in Kiarostami's films, such as these, hold great significance. He has to leave at 9PM sharp. He has to be home, he has to return to his wife, his life... or have the boundaries been crossed, the lines blurred, the roles permanently changed? Does he stay? Ah, but films are only fleeting.
Oh yeah, and Juliette Binoche is probably the most beautiful human being to come into existence since the dawn of man.