Certified Copy: Before Sunset for Grown-Ups

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

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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

unaccountably reproachful.

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

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?

--J. Hoberman

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