This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Tuomas’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Tracked down an interview from Kiarostami which illuminated what was going on. Essentially the movie is the meeting of a couple and then them fifteen years into their marriage. He referred to what they engage in as "play" and to an extent I believe that intention. The woman seems to be introducing scenarios for him to play along initially when the movie has its turn in the middle and the man reacts by saying its unfair that she's assigning him the role of a neglectful father.
Up to that point it makes total sense that the woman is acting and wanting him to act along, but then things turn and the man delivers his part with so much more conviction and agency which suggests that something has changed, which I believe is the point where we're supposed to read them as now having been together for fifteen years.
The whole thing can be read as them engaging in pure play considering the movie takes place over a day eventually ending up at the evening when the man is supposed to leave, but I choose to read the film as more abstract and literal about the roles the characters inhabit which is partly also the intention. Kiarostami frequently chooses to show the artifice of film by pointing out to us that this is all just a construction. The idea that there's a logical cohesive solution to the story which makes it make perfect sense just doesn't fit his ethos and habits as a filmmaker, especially since there's nothing else in the movie that breaks the artifice of its creation except the midpoint turn. They are strangers, they are married, they're in the present and they're in the future, it's all happening at the same time and we are not to know where each part is taking place and who they actually are.
It's not enough to reach a point where one can rationalize what they just watched though since now you've only come to terms with the functionality of the film and not what it is actually about. The movie after all isn't just about these two people and what happens between them, it's an examination of the themes. Its every single moment where it engages in the idea of the difference between the original and the copy and how we perceive them and how they affect us.
Some examples prove the differing ideologies about the themes and others disprove them. A joke is not as funny on the second time, but a husband showing a simple gesture of affection feels good even though you know he's intentionally carrying out the gesture and not doing it merely because he wants to. Sometimes the copy works, sometimes it doesn't.
The most beautiful thing about the movie though is the idea that if the two are indeed engaging in pure play and I'm not supposed to read it as more abstract as it is, the ending captures love between two people in a beautiful fashion even though its artificial and not actually there. It's a copy and yet its just as evocative as the real thing.
Absolutely adored the film. I'm not fully convinced that I cracked the movie personally to the fullest extent yet, but what I did end up settling on was satisfying enough and the most exciting part is that questions were left on the table which I might discover the answers to in the future.