Directed by Abbas Kiarostami. Starring Juliette Binoche, William Shimell. (2010, NR, 106 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 29, 2011
Made in France, Certified Copy is master filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami’s first feature narrative to be filmed outside his homeland of Iran. The movie toys with ideas suggested by the title: why we assume that copies do not have the same value as the originals and whether anything within the human purview can be truly original. Kiarostami has worked with these ideas before, but here they are crystallized in what otherwise seems like a breezy romance which occurs during the course of one sunny afternoon in Tuscany. A romance in Tuscany?! For starters, how many times before have we witnessed a similar setup? In self-reflexive fashion, Kiarostami is also subjecting himself to the challenge to create something new and original from a time-worn premise. And for the most part, the filmmaker succeeds, but this is not accomplished without also calling to mind other love-in-an-afternoon movies such as Before Sunset and L’avventura. Binoche, who received the 2010 Best Actress award at Cannes for this role, plays a woman only identified in the credits as “She.” She attends a lecture by a British author named James Miller (Shimell), who pontificates about his book Certified Copy. She leaves early but manages to slip her phone number to Miller, and he appears at her antique shop thereafter. Amid her antiques and replicas, they decide to go for a drive, but instead of gazing at the lovely scenery, they continue to discuss and debate the merits of his argument that copies are as authentic as their originals. While at a cafe, the proprietress speaks about them as though they are a married couple, and from that point it becomes unclear whether this might be an accurate appraisal of their relationship. Are they revisiting the place where they got married? Is She teasing or for real when She complains that he always forgets their anniversary? Little things begin to mount, and the viewer can never be certain if the marriage is real or play-acted. And, moreover, to what extent should this even matter? Notably, esteemed screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière (who frequently worked with Luis Buñuel) appears as a character during a critical juncture. The languages spoken throughout Certified Copy slide easily amongst Italian, French, and English, further creating the sense of none of them being authentic. Nevertheless, this open-ended narrative feels more like a frustrating intellectual exercise than a drama with interlaced characters. Were it not for the transcendent presence of Binoche (and her transfixing cleavage), I suspect Certified Copy might feel even more like homework.