Certified Copy is at once beautifully simple and brilliantly complex: it’s situation hits home with an immediacy that it is impossible not to feel, and yet you’ll somehow sense that there is much more than meets the eye (or hammers the heart) in writer director Abbas Kiarostami’s carefully choreographed romantic tale.
Set in Italy, the story begins with scholarly English author James Miller (William Shimell) speaking about his new book, Certified Copy, at a press conference. In the audience is French ex-pat Elle (Juliette Binoche) and her slightly impatient son. When the conference ends, we join Elle and her son as they digest what happened, or rather he psychoanalyses her whilst playing computer games and she gets irritated.
Once this curiously insightful sequence has set the tone, we move into the meat of the matter. James visits Elle in her antiques shop and together they go on a day trip where their past begins to unravel in front of them. They talk about their married life, their wedding and their lives as they journey around the Italian countryside together.
But even as the discussion delves into deep emotional matters between the couple, it raises still more questions. Is their relationship real? What do they really feel for each other? If they are simulating such real emotion, does it even matter that the simulation is fake?
Aside from the clever way that these themes intertwine with Miller’s book, which is overtly discussed as part of the proceedings – producing an almost essay-like feel at times, their are so many interesting layers to this tale.
The central performances by Binoche and Shimell start off with a simmering tension that soon develops into a full-blown romance, before bouncing back and forth in an utterly absorbing emotional journey. Binoche exhibits the sort of range that we all know she is capable of but that, sadly, she is so rarely challenged to achieve. Meanwhile Shimell exhibits great poise and restraint in reserving Miller’s own personal hangups until its just the right moment to explode. All the while they dart from this intensity to a strange, distanced place in which the doubts about reality creep in.
The way that Kiarostami shoots the ‘relationship’ is similarly calculated to at once immerse you in their emotion, and encourage you to question the events that are unfolding. The whole film is spent in first-person (or close enough) positions so that we constantly accompany our characters, sometimes even taking their places, as we feel the reality of their world. But then we’ll switch to a passer-by, or join them as they distance themselves to discuss the various ideas at play, and are jolted out of the seemingly impassioned scene in a way that makes for an electric cinematic experience.
Certified Copy is a rare cinematic treat, it’s an intelligent arthouse film that invites everyone into its posturing debates. An egalitarian experience that is at once experimental and recognisably real, this is a great romance that will leave you with plenty to think about.
Certified Copy is on limited U.K. release now.
This article was first posted on September 4, 2010