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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Certified Copy is at first sight a romantic drama set on a single day
in a small Tuscan village. A beautiful, if typical European art-house
picture, but in fact it has something much more significant to offer.
I have to laugh at the constant use of the word "pretentious" on this site in relation to films which are challenging thematically and which do not engage all viewers. These reviewers use it in place of the word 'boring' because, I suppose, they feel that labelling it as merely boring suggests they have difficulty understanding it or engaging with it, when in fact that's their criticism.
It's a miss representation of both the correct meaning of that word and what this film achieves. This film is not pretentious, it is exactly what it purports to be - an examination of a relationship in terms of reality and perception. A conversation examining the value of copies within our lives. It is also unmistakably a Kiarostami film. It's not for everybody.
A French woman (Binoche) attends a lecture from a British author, James Miller (Shimell). Miller has just published a book on the subject of copies in the art world. She leaves the lecture early, but not before leaving her number for the author. The next day he calls to her gallery and the pair travel to Luciagno on what seems at first like a date.
As the day progresses and the pair discuss his book and argue about the validity of copies versus originals, a complicity between them emerges. Perhaps they know each other quite well. perhaps this is not a first date. In a café a waitress mistakes them for a married couple and they decide to play along. However this game seems to get out of hand as they assume the roles of a couple who have been married for 15 years. Or do they. Perhaps they are or were married...
Kiarostami skillfully weaves his tale around these two characters while examining his central theme that nothing is really original and that we all assume roles in our lives. This is a recall of the themes he masterfully examined in Close Up.
At first sight the film may seem like an almost clichéd European art film, but it is in fact a version or copy of one, this is examined in a startling scene where the couple argue about the aesthetic value of a fountain. (Which is not real and was only placed there for the film). She loves it he doesn't. He finds it clichéd and ornate, while she has a very personal and sentimental reaction to it, much like many viewers are having to the film. However, Kiarostami is keen to ensure that it's clear that her perception is no less important or correct than his. Hers may be an emotional reaction, but it is a perfectly legitimate one. This film is not called Certified Copy' for nothing, it's Kiarostami's copy of a European art film, but is it any less valuable than the originals? Of course not. It exists in and of itself, independently of the 'original'.
Kiarostami's film is very open ended. It never really explains the relationship between the two, which will exasperate audiences looking for a clear resolution. However, while people may come to different decisions as to the truth all the ingredients necessary are there.
My interpretation is that they are not married, nor are they strangers, I believe that she is his mistress of 15 years and she longs to be his wife, while he is somewhat indifferent to her and probably has a wife. Their relationship is a 'copy' of a marriage without the legitimacy afforded to the other brides who appear regularly throughout the film. Kiarostami's film makes it clear that although she is 'only' the mistress, her feelings are legitimate.
Kiarostami's film looks beautiful and uses it's location to great effect, without becoming a postcard travelogue. His usual visual tropes are all present from the long, unbroken takes to the direct to camera acting. In his first screen role William Shimell gives a solid and believable performance as the pompous and emotionally distant English man, while Binoche in her Cannes Best Actress winning role is a revelation. Her character is a mess of emotions and Binoche performs them with sheer skill. At times one can see that she is portraying her character as portraying these emotions and this acts to add depth to the concept of copies and reality. A brave and thoughtful performance.
Certified Copy is not for everyone. To really 'get' the film one must fully engage in their discussion of some abstract and philosophical themes and in that respect the film may be more enjoyable in retrospect or on second viewing (I need to see it again!). However, for those who submit to it, it's a rich and rewarding cinematic diversion from the Iranian master of illusion.
If you're familiar with the movies of Iranian director Abbas
Kiarostami, this is a big departure from his usual work. Shot in Italy
with Juliette Binoche and some dude, it's basically a romantic comedy,
but nothing like Hollywood would ever produce (well, it actually
reminds a little bit of Before Sunset by Richard Linklater, but miles
away from the Julia Roberts/Sandra Bullock avenue).
It's really enjoyable with unexpected progress of the story (unexpected especially if you're brainwashed by certain type of movies about male-female relationships). It has room for interpretation, everything is not explained and it lets the viewer bind the remaining threads. It's also funny and I found it quite intense. It held my attention and actually felt about ten minutes shorter than it really is. I have to admit that I'm a big fan of intelligent movies about male-female relationships. Long well written and acted scenes with just a man and a woman talking don't turn me off.
The formal control of the shots by the director and the cinematographer are masterful. There are those long shots that Kiarostami has used before, but used masterfully in the context of the story, and not in any "look at me, Mom, I'm sculpting in time" -art house tedium.
I talked with couple other persons who saw the movie, and they said that they didn't like it. But let me tell you that it's really good.
If you have seen Under The Olive Tree, Kiarostami's master piece from 1994, you might find Certified Copy to be the continuation 25 years later on a different continent. Here he left Iran for Western Europe because Binoche could not have done this in Iran. A twisted, touching, thoughtful relationship story that plays with what is a copy and what is an original, what is reality and what is imagination. Beautifully filmed and Binoche is at her best. The many languages spoken between the protagonists - none from Iran - just confirmed for me the many levels of a relationship, the confusion and misunderstandings you are confronted with, no matter where you are. Definitely worth seeing and talking about with intelligent friends.
Euro intellectual recession-time story? I recommend Copie Conforme because of and in spite of the difficulty in watching it. The difficulty resides in the multiple layers involved in the relationship of the two protagonists, not to speak of the three languages that they both speak in various circumstances. The more the the action evolves, the less we seem to understand the real nature of their relationship. What we do know is that those two have a problem of communication. It is this struggle of seduction/rejection, with setbacks and all that make it worth watching. Atmosphere and the man-woman tension is what keeps it going. The filming is impeccable, with lovely scenes of Tuscany, excellent camera, and the great work on surrounding noises, which I believe replaces any music at all. The acting is also very fine, with Binoche deservedly getting a major Cannes Film Festival award.
The Pitch: It's like looking in a mirror, only
The Review: Juliette Binoche has had a career spanning nearly thirty years, and for much of that has jumped between roles in her natural language and English. You might think that, with the supposed paucity of good female roles in movies, that there's not much left for Binoche to cover that she hasn't before, but here she gets to explore some new territory to Cannes best actress award-winning effect. In the process, she gets to cover a range of languages, not only English and French but Italian, but in this case there is a specific purpose to the variances of the language.
The set-up is simple: William Shimell plays James Miller, an British author on a tour of Tuscany where his work on originality in art has been better received than in his homeland. Binoche is the woman who comes to hear his talk, and the two are then drawn together in a discussion of his work. Once the two meet again, the course of the movie charts their discussions over the course of an afternoon, taking in the Italian countryside and engaging with a number of characters along the way who cause them to reflect on their differing viewpoints on Miller's work.
There's a turning point as we approach the halfway mark where one of those characters seemingly mistakes the pair for a married couple. What starts as a role play, set off by the misunderstanding, takes on more and more aspects, and eventually both the pair and the audience are lost in the drama. The whole movie reveals itself to be an intricate construct on this concept, almost every aspect of the theme, the performances or the setting playing with the motif of originality versus imitation. Reflections in car windows sometimes obscure the actors themselves, POV shots ask us to engage directly in the drama almost as a participant and this even extends to the leading pair themselves Shimell is a renowned baritone, not an actor, and there is a slight but noticeable difference between his performance and that of Binoche, which almost feels like a copy of acting rather than being fully immersed in the role.
While this reinforces the concept, it does prevent the audience from fully engaging, being kept slightly at arm's length by the constant artifice. That's not to say that there's not a lot to enjoy here, with the confusions and the tensions making this verge on a romantic comedy at times. Despite the differences in acting ability, Shimell and Binoche make an engaging couple at times and as time wears on, you find yourself more keen to believe that the beginning was the illusion and that their relationship is real and not the copy. Much of the credit for this must be placed at Binoche's door, using the language differences to vary mood effectively, but also adding colour and emotion in all of the languages she uses. The only one here who's on familiar ground is director Kiarostami, who's explored these themes before but never to such mainstream effect worth checking out if you'd like to engage your mind and your heart.
Why see it at the cinema: There is a very literal aspect of the visuals which runs throughout the course of the movie, which the cinema screen will allow you to fully appreciate.
The score: 7/10
"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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If certifying an art piece as a copy means defining the authenticity of
its original, watching Certified Copy means reviewing how much ideals,
expectations, and fantasies about love you have projected to your life.
What does your true self intrinsically need from love? And, how do time
and life changes affect your perspective?
James the protagonist would rather challenge himself with one of the most difficult writing tasks, i.e. endorsing the originality of art work, than get engaged in the search for an authentic love. For marriage, he holds a pessimistically detached attitude, which is seen at different points in the film, and cannot be clearer when he refused to take a picture with the young couple at the popular wedding spot. For him, marriage is just a copy of an image of what people think love should ultimately lead to, but marriage is not exactly what love is meant to be. For him, love should be liberating (like the way that Cypress trees extend their branches); it cannot be maintained without adaptation to changes, including changes caused by the lapse of time, new responsibilities, career ambition, etc. His detachment towards Juliet Binoche (who played the nameless character, the woman who sometimes seems to be his wife and sometimes simply seems to be a book fan) may be an expression of his insistence on the originality of love.
Binoche is the opposite of James. She gives values to copies, even though she recognizes the superiority of originals. This is reflected in her antique shop, where both originals and copies are displayed and sold. While James shows contempt to Original Copy, she highly regards it. (Original Copy is the painting copy which was mistaken as the original for such a long time that it eventually got acknowledged as a valuable art work and displayed in the Tuscany museum). For her, love is an ideal but not without responsibilities. Marriage may be just an illusion of love, but it can be just as real and rewarding if you believe in it hard enough and work on it hard enough. Unfortunately, she is in love with someone who does not share the same value as her, someone who does not want his own liberal spirit to be inhibited by responsibilities, and someone who does not conform to the inferiority of copies.
The most intriguing part of the story is that you never know the relationship between James and Binoche. Obviously this is not a mystery to solve, but an idea to play with. You can see them as two people who newly met, but just play along after being mistaken as a couple. Both of them have demonstrated certain transference as the story goes, but Binoche was almost overtaken by it. Unintentionally, they projected their feelings towards their spouse onto each other. You can also see James as the constantly unavailable husband of Binoche, a man who needs to be free from obligations to enjoy life. It is interesting to note that, what seems to be confusing to viewers is plain and clear to the people around these two persons they all see them as a couple, including the waitress, the new young couple at the church, the old couple by the fountain, and the inn keeper. For us viewers, the confusion did not start until after the conversation between the waitress and Binoche. From then on, James and Bionche started role playing or revealing their past. Either way, the process is punctuated by intense and emotional moments. It raised the questions of how we react to others' interpretation of us, what constitutes their interpretation, and how our reaction to the interpretation affects us in return. If one's identity is shaped by - or worse- caters to other's interpretation, how authentic can his life remain? How well are we aware of our true self? How much does awareness matter?
I love the way that the director uses the camera. At some points, the viewer feels like standing behind a two-way mirror watching the characters. At some points, the viewer feels like sitting in the position of James or Binoche, being looked right into the eyes and talked to. At some other points, the viewer feels like being in the position of the new couple, whom Binoche was waving at. The open ending is excellent. The question that is left to be answered is whether James took the train and left, or he stayed with Binoche.How to draw the line between the value of originality and the value of copies? Are you going to compromise? What is the standard for a "certified copy"? What are acceptable and not acceptable for an authentic love/life?
The mystery of this relationship will likely resonate the most with
people. How do these two people know each other, is she the mistress,
wife? I think it counts that Kiarostami has designed it to be
impenetrable by logic, blurred the cause and effect, which is a way of
dispelling the notion that we can know the world by it. Is he going to
put his hand on her shoulder, will he take the 9 o'clock train out of
there, I'd rather ask these questions myself. Both pertain here
eventually, as abstractions of life. A man and a woman, whose
relationship real or imaginary we might know from our own efforts.
They stop in a museum before the picture of a portrait, thought for centuries to be the original, though lately discovered to have been only a perfect copy. What value has changed in this object, what new perception now regards it, this is where I believe this is best unraveled.
Things change the man quips philosophically, an intellectual much like Kiarostami perhaps. Yet we see the same cypresses standing by the same old road, the same plazas and hotels they once visited, then young and booming with love. Having spoken so well, we see however that the man understands little of that. He can't even enjoy a simple glass of wine without complaining that it is corked, what should be a simple pleasure is tainted by the gross irritation that comes from too much satisfaction. Having satisfied our desires so many times, in so many different ways, we can see that we are no closer to happiness.
Where does this weariness then, born from too much familiarity, from having seen or tasted too much, come from and why does it invest our gaze with this constant dissatisfaction? Another line of thought to connect the web of allusions. The woman, who has made herself beautiful for him in the day of their anniversary, says he doesn't see her anymore. He looks at her but doesn't see, meaning something has dissipated with time, grown withered in his eyes, though she is still the same, except a little older.
Kiarostami perfectly visualizes the burden that saddles these people in the scene where they are driving around town in the car. On the windshield we see cast over their faces the reflections of buildings gliding by, not simply the gap that exists between them, indeed between any two human beings, but the burden of time, life passing them over. In a poignant metaphor, we see them move through existence.
A perfect copy, the original, two identical objects which we are taught to perceive differently. The lines being the same in the same places, the hues of color painted exactly the same, the one intrinsic value that separates the two is merely time. Which is to say that as humans, who wither away with time, we allow ourselves to regard it as the most precious good, the one we cannot buy or sell. The movie shows us how, although we may understand our transience as an idea, we live as though we will always be here, as though we have time enough to postpone a small gesture of affection.
But if we simply perceive the world around us, this present moment? This draught of air now coming from an open window or this glass of wine? Or indeed this woman who has made herself beautiful for us?
This is a great film by one of the few gifted filmmakers of our times, perhaps his first truly great one. In the right ears, this will be a sutra that will permit us to meditate on fundamental precepts of existence, how time thought to matter matters little, how craving and ego blind us. How ultimately, like a mandala upon which Tibetan monks work tirelessly day and night only to destroy it upon completion, life is to be lived in full, with knowledge that it will come to pass.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
So it goes like this...My parents have quarreled as always. My
boyfriend is on the other part of the world and I haven't seen him for
a month (5 more to go). OK, so I'm sitting in my room and pitying
myself as good as I can. And along came...no, not Polly. Along came
Couple of things to consider before watching the movie (I wish someone's told me those). If you're looking for a French romantic comedy in style of 'Jet Lag'(starring Binoche and Reno),don't count on this one. Get ready to struggle through the first 40 minutes of the movie. It may seem boring even for those who are interested in art. Why? 'Cause it's not about art as you'll discover later.
I have to give credit to Abbas Kiarostami for that plot twist that finally brought the story line to life. At the end you even start to appreciate that first part which seemed to be meaningless.
So it's not about art. The subject is trivial and eternal - relationship between husband and wife. The whole plot could be put in one line - here's what almost every couple will be after 15 years of marriage. And no matter what she does, no matter how hard she tries to recreate the past full of happy illusions, he still has to catch his train at 9 o'clock.
In the course of the movie you keep stumbling across happy newlyweds here and there. However, seeing the protagonists at the same time, you do realize that not many of those married couples will grow old together sweetly holding hands everywhere they go.
For many people everything written above is obvious 'cause they've already lived through this and have come to terms with the fact that there's no eternal love and the marriage ceremony is much more beautiful than the marriage itself. However, if you're in your early 20's and everyone around you keeps saying: 'Stop dreaming, this is real life, wake up!' But you remain stubborn and say: 'No, I can do better than that. I'll find my real love and I'll treat it with care'.
After watching this movie you may think: 'Well, it's time to admit everything they've told me is true'. And that's when you grow up.
All reviewers so far have either opted for 8 or 2. That is a sure sign
that something is going on, I am willing to risk flack from all sides
and say that Cerified Copy is was it is: a look at how we layer our
relationships, an hour and forty minutes of conversations, broken with
moments of silence and walking, and about two people who may or may not
be in a some sort of relationship or connection.
It has originality - it will not be like other films seen recently in mainstream European cinema, there is little or no plot, or action, rather we dealing with conversation, and the state of the heart and the mind in a fiercely non-Hollywood fashion. This is a film about thinking about emotions, and is almost non-linear in its conversations and if that concept doesn't appeal then it may well not be viewable.
It is, however, despite itself, pretty mesmerizing - what will they say next? what other aspect of why relationships fail and succeed will be tossed into the salad? who are they? why the games? etc;
The conversations are both alienating and intimate, and have a "play-acting" aspect that allows the psychosexual aspect of how we adults explore potentiality to be examined in a way that is normally reduced to sexual tension and flirting on film. This is a film that demands attention - this is not dumb film-making. I recognize the conversations and the feeling well, but in a sense the connection is too contrived to be really successful - but it certainly touches that part of intimacy that is normally, at best, ethereal.
The setting of Chianti and a beautiful hot summer day, with cicadas and a wonderful small town to explore, lightens this - but it remains a film for philosopher romantics. It is, as others here have noted in better ways than me, film as film - here there are images and shots that work to compliment the alienation and solipsistic nature of the two leads.
A film about questions that offers few answers, it is certainly intriguing and if you are into human exploration and condition worth the effort to watch.
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