Certified Copy (2010)

Kiarostami’s first non-Iranian film is engaging, but the male lead is unable to hold his own against Juliette Binoche.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Dir. Abbas Kiarostami
2010 | France/Italy/Iran | Drama/Romance | 106 mins | 1.85:1 | French, English & Italian
PG13 (passed clean) for some sexual references

Cast: Juliette Binoche, William Shimell, Jean-Claude Carriere
Plot:  In Tuscany to promote his latest book, a middle-aged British writer meets a French woman who leads him to the village of Lucignano. While there, a chance question reveals something deeper.
Awards: Won Best Actress, Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes)
International Sales: MK2

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Alliance Francaise Cine-Club
First Published: 12 Mar 2013
Spoilers: No

Abbas Kiarostami’s first non-Iranian film is decent.  It has a fresh, original story and retains some of the elements that made the legendary filmmaker so distinctive even amongst Iranian directors, such as a requisite long take in a car, the dialectic between illusion and reality, and a suitably open ending.

Certified Copy is an English-French film that is set in Tuscany, a charming Italian town.  It stars Juliette Binoche as Elle, who meets up with a book writer called James (William Shimell).  They chat and walk for the entire film, and mind you if you think this is gonna be a snooze-fest. It ain’t.

Its execution is strongly influenced by Linklater’s Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004), and for some time the film feels like a French remake of those films.  

However, Kiarostami splits, though not explicitly, his film into two halves.  I won’t talk about it except to say that it makes the film an intriguing experience as it plays around with the aforementioned theme of reality versus illusion.

Certified Copy‘s storytelling revolves around role playing (or not), and it is imbued with so much vagueness that even a discerning viewer will find it hard to ascertain what’s black and what’s white.  Shades of grey is the name of the game here, and Kiarostami plays it cool that way.

“I know you hate me.  There’s nothing I can do about that.  But at least try to be a little consistent.”

He also makes some insightful observations on the nature of human relationships through romance, marriage and conflict, but it is not necessarily as profound as his previous works such as Close-Up (1990) or Taste of Cherry (1997), where the human condition is a constant theme.

Still, Certified Copy engages with its seemingly ‘unscripted’ scenes as the two leads trade barbs and words of wisdom with each other.  Steven Rea of Philadelphia Inquirer rightfully calls it a “playfully enigmatic meditation”.

The main issue I have with the film is Kiarostami’s directing of Shimell.  The chemistry between Binoche and him is there, but the latter’s performance is inconsistent.  

He does okay in the first hour, but struggles to hold his own against Binoche later on, especially during a key scene in a dining place where he descends into some sort of inexplicable frenzy, with his exaggerated acting and British accent proving to be quite distracting.

Kiarostami’s handling of Shimell could have been more precise in this instant.  However, Binoche remains to be a strong anchor for the film as she gives a splendid performance that brings out something quite poetic in Kiarostami’s prose.

Grade: B+



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