Certified Copy: Criterion Collection
May 25, 2012
Certified Copy (2010) marks Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami’s first feature film made outside of his native country. With the help of art house darling Juliette Binoche, the film went on to become his most successful effort to date. It explores the notion of originality versus a copy in fascinating detail and a novel plot twist that only deepens this theme.
Writer James Miller (Shimell) arrives late to his own book reading in Tuscany. It’s entitled Certified Copy, an extended essay on the psychological and philosophical aspects of art. He makes an argument about the validity of copies of works of art because they ultimately lead us back to the original. He extends this notion to humans, arguing that we are only the “DNA replicas of our ancestors.”
A French antiques dealer (Binoche) shows up to the reading late and leaves in the middle when her son (Moore) complains about being hungry. She gives Miller’s friend her cell phone number and they meet later at her shop. However, he only has a few hours to kill until he has to catch a train and wants to get out of the city. So, they take a car ride and talk about his book. They drive through the countryside and arrive in another town where they get out and walk around all the while talking about a variety of things.
There is an intriguing push and pull of Miller and the dealer’s initial conversation. It appears as if she means to charm and maybe even seduce him, saying flattering things about his book, but she disagrees with him and they skirt around the edges of an argument. And then almost an hour into the film an interesting thing happens. While stopping in a café he goes outside to answer a phone call and she strikes up a conversation with a woman that runs the place. She assumes that the two foreigners are a married couple and they adopt these roles for the rest of the film. It’s a daring plot twist that Kiarostami pulls off thanks to his talented lead actors. William Shimell is quite good as the distinguished intellectual but it is Juliette Binoche who really impresses with her complex characterization, creating a fascinating, layered character over the course of the film.
Certified Copy revives and champions the lost art of conversation between reasonably intelligent people. To this end, Kiarostami employs long takes allowing his two lead actors to not only dive into their characters but also show the developing relationship between them. His very well-written screenplay presents all kinds of thought-provoking ideas, like the notion that an original painting is merely a reproduction of its real-life subject. The film also wrestles with the concept of originality – what makes something unique? Ultimately, Certified Copy asks us to question what we are watching. Is what is happening between these two characters really occurring or are they making it all up, which is what art does anyway? This draws attention to the fact that we are watching a film but this only becomes apparent after it is over.
The first disc has a theatrical trailer.
The second disc starts off with “The Report,” Kiarostami’s very rare second feature film taken from an old analog video master as the original had been destroyed during the Iranian Revolution. Released in 1977, it explores some of the same themes as Certified Copy.
There is an interview with Kiarostami done in Paris in 2012. He argues that art, like in life, copy of the original should be appreciated and valued. He discusses the nature of love and why he considers it an illusion. Certified Copy is based on something that happened to him 15 years ago in a café. He speaks eloquently and intelligently about the film’s themes.
Finally, there is “Let’s See Copia conforme,” a behind-the-scenes documentary by Irene Bufo that mixes set footage with interview soundbites from key cast and crew.