Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy opens at Miami Beach Cinematheque and Cosford this weekend. The Iranian modernist's first feature to be shot in the West is a flawless riff on our indigenous art cinema.
It's a romantic, sun-dappled Voyage to Italy with a Before Sunset structure and Marienbad backbeat, not to mention a suave acting exercise that would have been pure hell in the hands of David Mamet. Certified Copy is a rumination on authenticity using William Shimell (an opera singer by trade) as a foil for festival diva Juliette Binoche.
An English author (Shimell) arrives in a Tuscan village to promote his
new book, titled (of course) Certified Copy. After his self-satisfied
presentation, the author acts on an invitation that is never exactly
spelled out, and pays a call on a never-named woman (Binoche, who won
the Best Actress Award at Cannes last year) seen sitting prominently in
the audience. She operates a gallery stocked with antique replicas, and
has bought six copies of his book--all to be duly certified with his
Certified Copy is a movie of long takes and constant conversation (on
the superiority of fake jewelry and the significance of Warhol's Coke
bottles, among other things). Once it gets going, it's so fluid, it
might easily be mistaken for facile. The movie is even pastiche
Kiarostami in its headlong forward motion--first, as the couple drives
through the glorious Tuscan countryside, and later, as they walk the
medieval stone streets of the picture-book hill town Lucignano.
relationship, mapped in a succession of close-ups, is hardly so direct:
He's aloof and testy, glumly miffed to be stuck with this bothersome
French woman; she's variously flirtatious, argumentative, and
When the pair stops for coffee, Shimell recounts a story regarding the
inspiration for his book that, particularly in Binoche's unexpectedly
emotional response, strongly suggests some earlier acquaintance--"That
sounds quite familiar," she snaps, adding, "I wasn't well then."
he's taken outside by a phone call (cell phones function as a comic deus
ex machina throughout), the café proprietress strikes up a conversation
with Binoche, assuming that Shimell is her husband. Binoche plays
along, making up the story of their marriage even as the café owner
imagines it; surprisingly, if somewhat begrudgingly, Shimell joins the
game as well.
When watching Certified Copy for the first time, it seemed as if the
actors were role-playing their way into a shared fiction; when I saw it
again, I was far more aware of the highly ambiguous hints regarding the
existence of a prior relationship that Kiarostami carefully introduces
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throughout, along with the notion that a reproduction might be better
than an original. (This is a movie in which mirrors abound.) Is their
"marriage" a copy or the real thing? And what's a performance, anyway?