Theatrical Review: CERTIFIED COPY

Joshua Brunsting

by: Joshua Brunsting
April 18th, 2011

Rating: 5/5

Writer: Abbas Kiarostami
Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Cast: Juliette BinocheWilliam Shimell, Jean-Claude Carrière

While the word "auteur" seems to be tossed around these days like any overused piece of love-professing proclamation, very few filmmakers truly fit that bill quite like Iranian icon Abbas Kiarostami.

Fueled by a truly meditative nature, films like TASTE OF CHERRY and CLOSE-UP have proven that not only is the filmmaker one of today’s most talented and thought-provoking film directors, but he has also become one of its most polarizing. However, stepping out of his physical wheelhouse with the Italian-shot, star-led CERTIFIED COPY, Kiarostami appears to not only be on top of his game, but also working on a level visually and conceptually that has yet to be touched by his peers.

A director known for his minimalist visual style and even more minimal cast, COPY features a star in the lead role, as the always-wonderful Juliette Binoche takes on the role of Elle, a single mother and gallery owner who lives in a Tuscan village with her young son. After attending a book reading and signing of a British author, played by the opera singer William Shimell, the two go on a tour of the countryside where they discuss art, and the importance of authenticity within the said art. However, that’s not all. As the trip goes on, the author is mistaken for Elle’s husband, and as the day progresses, the newly minted (or maybe previously instilled) roles become more and more fleshed out, as does the relationship between the two. This seemingly false relationship becomes more and more vivid, leaving the viewer to wonder what is truly going on here.

Opening on a scene at the start of the book lecture, we are introduced to a British author, pimping the Italian translation of his book, Certified Copy, who, like his female counterpart, comes into the lecture late. We meet our lead, Elle, who longs to discuss the topic of art, truth, and art authentication with the famous writer in question, James Miller. However, after a thesis is spouted by Miller during his introduction, we are sent on a journey through the bowels of a relationship that seems to be bourgeoning, as well as absolutely falling apart, all over a matter of hours.

Now, while Binoche may have been the winner of Best Actress at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, it is director Abbas Kiarostami that is ultimately the film’s biggest star. Leaving the film distinctly vague, the style of this film is decidedly up front. Featuring seemingly New Wave inspired touches like the masterful use of mirrors and other reflective surfaces to give the film a haunting frame-in-frame sensibility, COPY also has a distinctive sense of symmetry. Whether it be narratively, through little things like the use of stairs, or visually like the reflection of a skyline in a perfectly framed car sequence, the film is both subtle in its flashiness and flashy in its subtlety. Within such a bare bones narrative, the little touches, like the use of close-ups or the use of fourth wall breaking dialogue scenes, are amplified, nabbing the viewers eye right at the most important moments.

Kiarostami also has a strong grasp on what he is ultimately trying to say here. A film inherently about what we deem as both art and reality, it is this split between the two ideas that plays as the film’s primary tension. The wonderfully poignant and moving screenplay, penned by Kiarostami, is at times deeply comical, and also starkly powerful, forcing the viewer to not only question what is going on narratively, but also question if what that answer is ultimately matters. CERTIFIED COPY is like a wonderful puzzle, where each piece fits together absolutely perfectly, but you aren’t quite sure what the final picture is. And frankly, it doesn’t matter. The means here don’t necessarily equal a blunt end, but it’s the means themselves, the happenings on screen, that matter. As Miller would say, it doesn’t matter if the piece of art is true or simply a copy of something else, it’s the emotion the viewer feels from viewing this piece that makes it truly a “certified copy.”

And this film has emotion in spades, thanks both to Kiarostami’s award-worthy screenplay, and especially the award-winning performances. Led by Binoche, the film rests entirely on the shoulders of both she and Shimell, and they are more than capable shoulders. Binoche is breathtaking here, giving one of, if not her absolute best, performances to date. She plays a single mother with such a great amount of depth, that there is not a single moment where you’ll be taking your eyes off her. Shimell, making his feature film debut, is equally as good, playing the cold, detached, and what many people may call “pretentious” author. He’s given the role, by both Kiarostami and Binoche’s character, of an absent father, and while one may believe that these two simply act out parts given to them by an elderly woman, the emotional depths delved here by both parties involved leave this writer thinking that there is much, much more than meets the eye.

Overall, while the film itself may not be for everyone (even I’ll admit, the film’s opening act is paced a tad awkwardly), CERTIFIED COPY is something more. Something different. A meditative look at art, love, reality, and the human interaction and conceptualization of all three, COPY features a pair of award-worthy performances, and a narrative that is much deeper than your run of the mill, BEFORE SUNRISE-style romance drama. Very much stylized like the Richard Linklater film, COPY will leave the viewer dreaming about it for days to come, and talking as soon as it’s over. Utterly rewarding despite its vague nature, this is a story of a man and a woman more than it is about a husband and wife. A piece of art more than it is a film.

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