Georges and Anne are in their eighties. They are cultivated, retired music teachers. Their daughter, who is also a musician, lives abroad with her family. One day, Anne has an attack. The couple's bond of love is severely tested.
James Miller has just written a book on the value of a copy versus the original work of art. At a book reading, a woman gives him her address, and the next day they meet and take a country-side drive to a local Italian village. Here, they discuss various works of art found in the town, and also the nature of their relationship - which gets both more revealed and concealed as the day progresses. Written by
"Certified Copy" is a film of great beauty and mystery. The first thing that strikes you about it is how real it feels. Not just its plot, not just the acting, but also the dialogs - they are laced in the anguish, hope, fears, disappointments and joys of the life we all live, everyday. To try to explain what the film is about it to rob it of its sense of poetic irony but all you need to know about it is that it revolves around two people who strike up a conversation after meeting in picturesque Tuscany. Binoche plays the part of a woman, apparently a single mother, who owns a small antiques store. She meets a visiting British writer, James Miller (opera star William Shimell, in his debut) who is there promoting his new book, a treatise on copies in the art world. The two decide to meet later for a discussion dinner, but what at first seems like mundane musings on the every day quickly takes a turn when it appears to us that the two are familiar to each other and perhaps even might have met. We are never told, not directly at least, whether this is the case, but numerous hints are dropped; a joke that Miller shares for instance than Binoche seems to have heard before, then an anecdote that is all too familiar to her and which can relate to, about the replica (or copy!) of the David statue outside the Academia in Florence. Dialogues therefore drive the film. Binoche's description of her sister and her problems with stammering are so succinct, so clairvoyant that when we almost feel we know her as well and later in the film, when Binoche uses the pseudo stammering 'J-J-J-James', it tells you so much about her. If you listen carefully to the dialogs and are intent on picking up inflections, body language and facial expressions the film is richly rewarding.
Credit for this greatly goes to director Abbas Kiarostami for his use of formalism combined with minimalism and tight framings. Let's just say he knows where to place his camera and what to get out of his actors. His closeups of the faces of his two leads is both intrusive and revelatory. In the finest example of this, and in an outstanding unbroken single take, he lingers on the beautiful, ever luminous face of Binoche as she powders her face and applies her lipstick. Ordinarily the scene should have been inconsequential, but in the scheme of things it is both a private moment with the character that Binoche plays and fine testament of Binoche's ability. She is outstanding throughout - shifting from one extreme to the other, crying and laughing, sometimes at the same time. In the films most heartbreaking scene, she asks Miller if he noticed whether she dressed up for him that day. When he answers that he didn't she responds by telling him how she was able to pick up the scent of his new perfume. This might be nothing more than the deconstruction of all cross gender relationships, yet we learn so much about both of them while being kept at a distance. Because we can only infer what is going on, but still not be entirely sure about it, the film envelops us into its puzzle completely. At a time when many directors, most film and almost all actors are stuck doing the same things, "Certified Copy" feels like the real thing.
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