Sorting The Copies From The Original

Sorting The Copies From The Original

Static Mass Rating: 2/5
Artificial Eye

Release date: January 17th 2011
Certificate (UK): 12
Running time: 106 minutes

Director: Abbas Kiarostami

Cast: Juliette Binoche, William Shimell, Jean-Claude Carriere, Agathe Natanson, Gianna Giachetti, Adrian Moore, Angelo Barbagallo, Andrea Laurenzi, Filippo Trojano

Certified Copy (Copie Conforme) begins quite promisingly. Author James Miller has written a book which contends that copies and forgeries have comparable aesthetic virtues to the original and “authentic” artworks. He is the suave and conceited intellectual, discoursing expansively at the slightest opportunity. In Woody Allen’s categories of male (shall we say) post-maturity, he is the “distinguished grey”, caddish and vain but basically charming.

It’s Tuscany, its heavenly weather. Now, regardez-vous, here is the beautiful French woman, played by Juliet Binoche and identified only as “She” in the script. Bon.

Certified Copy

Enter Cleverness stage right. James, played by professional baritone and film novice William Shimmel, delivers a promotional lecture on his book, which not coincidentally shares the title of the film. Très bon. The author questions what is original and what is authentic, making some good points and making them eloquently, while the static camera patiently observes his pedagogical flourishes as though recording them for the university archives. Next: insinuations that the woman is rather enchantée with the man. They meet and flirt and go out for a drive in the Elysian countryside.

After twenty minutes, I thought Certified Copy was everything that I wanted it to be: pseudo-philosophy, simmering sexuality, stubborn tempo and painterly camerawork. In a word, French.

I love French films, their moody caprices and self-regarding unconventionality. But despite appearances, this is a cosmopolitan film whose tongue is shared with English, whose home is Italian, whose funding is Belgian, and whose writer and director, Abbas Kiarostami, is Iranian. Incidentally, it is the first dramatic feature film he has made outside of his despotic homeland, where the film is verboten on the grounds of Binoche’s plunging neckline. (The owner of the prohibited frontage must consider this a quite unnerving tribute.)

Certified Copy

Perhaps, then, it isn’t French enough. I don’t know. It certainly isn’t good enough. Not to support such extensive dialogic ruminations on art and life and love. In the theatre this might work. Or maybe Plato’s Symposium. In the Making of Kiarostami himself acknowledges that he initially believed the story- first told by him to Binoche as a fictitious anecdote many years before production began- lacked the features prerequisite for cinema. I think to some extent he was right.

Certified Copy

The plot interest depends somewhat on information withheld, but it won’t be to the detriment of your enjoyment if I give away that Certified Copy is about the progress of a relationship from exhilarating courtship to trivial bickering and serious conflict, and about trying to cope with that change. It’s also about men and women more fundamentally, and French idealism versus English sang-froid. It’s most interesting on these subjects, seeing not sharp delineations but characteristics commingled or reversed.

The best moments are not when one character or the other expands on the theme of Cypress Trees and The Taxonomy of Art, which happens far too often, but rather when thoughts are overrun and the irrational bites. It suggests that all their cogitation is totally helpless and finally useless against the complex and irreducible feelings which years of co-existence, let alone love, inevitably produce. A selfless empathy, aroused by the merest glimpse (the only kind of glimpse you’re going to get) of the unreachable otherness of your partner, is the one thing needful. So the ending seems to say. Don’t just see your copies of him or her; try to see the original.


  • UK exclusive interview with Juliette Binoche
  • Theatrical trailer

There is a lot of wisdom strewn about, some good writing to enjoy, and lovely scenery recorded with unmistakable grace. The performances are excellent: candid and passionate. Binoche was duly rewarded with Best Actress at Cannes. But the film has a leading gambit quite apart from many of these qualities, and it doesn’t work at all well. You wonder whether you’ve missed something, but I don’t think you have. It’s not just confusing- it’s confused.

Leave Your Reply

Required fields are marked *. Your details will never be shared.