Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Stars: Juliette Binoche, William Shimell.
The films of Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami (Shirin, Taste Of Cherry, etc) are something of an acquired taste, given his droll sense of humour and leisurely pacing. One of his key themes has always been the influence of the real world on art and cinema. His latest film is no different, although the award winning Certified Copy may well earn him a wider audience. Certified Copy is Kiarostami’s first film shot outside his native Iran, and his first to feature a European cast.
The narrative structure of the film is deceptively simple. British author and renowned art critic James Miller (William Shimell) is in Italy to promote his latest book exploring the validity of copies versus original art works. During a Q&A session in a Tuscan town he is approached by gallery owner Elle (Juliette Binoche), who offers to take him on a guided tour of some local sights. As they stroll through a picturesque village of Lucignano, the pair discusses authenticity in art, the beauty and importance of imitations, philosophy, parenthood, death, and even Elle’s failed marriage.
The film’s structure resembles that of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, which basically followed Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as they wandered through some pretty European landscapes discussing personal matters, and even Alain Resnais’ 1961 art house drama Last Year At Marienbad. This is almost like eavesdropping on a private conversation.
However, here the impassioned conversations are far more cryptic and existential in nature, and less superficial, and what begins as a flirtatious exploration of the book’s themes soon takes some unexpected turns. Over dinner at a restaurant the pair engage in some role playing that raises questions about the ambiguous nature of their relationship. However, it is hard to get a handle on the exact nature of the relationship between the two as it constantly undermines our expectations and assumptions.
The film plays with our notions of what is real and what is not, echoing one of the key themes. The film also raises many questions that are, frustratingly, left unanswered. Kiarostami goes for long fluid takes and his camera remains steady and focused as we follow Elle and Miller on their leisurely stroll. Cinematographer Luca Bigazzi (Bread And Tulips, etc) captures some gorgeous imagery and breathes life into the beautiful locations.
Certified Copy is essentially a two-hander, and Binoche and Shimell develop an easy going and comfortable rapport here. Binoche won the Best Actress award at Cannes for her subtly nuanced performance as the volatile and slightly uptight Elle, and her luminous presence certainly commands our attention. Shimell is a renowned opera singer who previously worked with the director on his theatrical production of Cosi Fan Tute. Making his film debut here he gives a strangely wooden performance in a vaguely underwritten role as the reserved writer.
The dialogue unfolds in English, French and Italian, and the mannered and deliberately obtuse dialogue develops a rhythm of its own. Certified Copy is a languidly paced, dialogue-driven and cerebral art house film that will appeal mainly to audiences who relish intelligent film making. I suspect that many will find it dull and uninvolving!