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Certified Copy

Certified Copy

By Dominic Walker • January 20th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 3/5
MK2 Diffusion

Release date: May 19th, 2010
Running time: 106 minutes

Country of origin: France
Original language: French, English, Italian

Writer and director: Abbas Kiarostami

Cast: Juliette Binoche, William Shimell, Jean-Claude Carriere

Certified Copy

I love French films, their moody caprices and self-regarding unconventionality, but despite appearances, Certified Copy 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’s the first dramatic feature film he’s 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.

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

It’s Tuscany, its heavenly weather. Now, regardez-vous, here’s the beautiful French woman, played by Juliet Binoche and identified only as “She” in the script. Enter Cleverness stage right. James delivers a promotional lecture on his book, which not coincidentally shares the title of the film. The author questions what’s original and what’s 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.

Certified Copy

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

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 Certified Copy 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.

There’s 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.

Certified Copy

Dominic Walker

Dominic Walker

Dominic is an English graduate, promiscuous dilettante and epistemological liability. He likes the sentimentalisation of loathsomeness, fetishized Teutonic Romanticism, the labour theory of value and Manchester United’s transcendent Bulgarian striker, Dimitar Berbatov. He abominates Certainty, curses The Wealth of Nations, and detests only mayonnaise more than asinine bathetic turns.

His favourite kinds of film are laborious, unyielding, laboriously unyielding, anything you’ve never heard of, and pornographic. At twenty-three, his achievements include A Spectroscopic Study of the Notion of Perineum in Jane Austen’s Later-Early Period, for which he won a MOBO award, and this sentence.

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