Directed by: Abbas Kiarostmai (Close Up)
Starring: Juliette Binoche, William Shimell, Gianna Giachetti, Jean-Claude Carriere, Agathe Natanson, Adrian Moore
Abbas Kiarostami’s first film made outside his native Iran is probably lighter than you’re expecting—or maybe not. You see, the whole point of Certified Copy is built on a premise of not being sure. It’s the central preoccupation of this movie—a film summed up by my viewing companion as “what mumblecore thinks it is.” That’s a yes and no to me, since I see the similarity, but I also see a world of difference—starting with its ability to be articulate and the fact that Certified Copy brims with wit and cleverness (maybe too much) and addresses questions of more than personal interest.
The film is essentially a deceit, but one that may play fairly. Juliette Binoche plays a French woman (we never learn her name) who appears to run an antique shop in a village in Tuscany. She attends a lecture being given by an art expert (who claims he isn’t) named James Miller (Brit opera star William Shimell), who’s on a book tour with his latest opus Certified Copy. She leaves her address with his manager, and when he arrives (with remarkable unconcern), she takes him on a tour of the area. They converse strictly in English, since he knows no Italian and presumably no French. It seems normal enough, if a little too offhand for people who just met. Soon it seems less normal.
As the day wears on, tensions grow between the two, especially after she’s disappointed by his non-response to a piece of art (that turns out to be a copy) she shows him. When they go to a cafe for coffee, the proprietress (Gianna Giachetti) mistakes them for—or maybe correctly pegs them as—an old married couple. The woman opts to play along with the mistake, but is she playing along? Who can say, though if she is, she deliberately lies to the woman when she tells her that her husband doesn’t speak French, since he subsequently does. The mystery deepens and the tensions flow and ebb as the characters interact.
It’s fascinating, entertaining, strangely romantic—and it stubbornly, and I think rightly, refuses to give up its mystery. Binoche is as luminous and amazing as always, and Shimell is a natural and compelling screen actor. See for yourself, but don’t leave it too long. The screening I attended was far from crowded and I don’t expect it will be around very long. Not Rated, but contains some language.