Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Writer: Abbas Kiarostami
Cinematographer: Luca Bigazzi
Starring: Juliette Binoche, William Shimell, Jean-Claude Carrière, Agatha Natanson
Studio/Runtime: IFC Films/106 min.
In the tradition of Journey to Italy and Before Sunrise, Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy consists almost entirely of two people talking with each other. The difference between this and its numerous predecessors is that the relationship between the pair is never clear. Juliette Binoche (her character is never named) and James Biller, played by William Shimell, are either a couple who just met pretending they’ve been married for 15 years or they’re a married couple pretending to have just met for the first time. Certified Copy never resolves this question, creating a sort of möbius strip in which both possibilities are correct. More than that, it questions how different those two scenarios are in the first place.
The film’s title comes from challenging the importance of originality in a work of art, with Shimell espousing the idea that what’s more important is the perception from audiences while Binoche remains unconvinced. Kiarostami himself has long seemed more concerned with personal feelings than in authenticity (as seen by his manipulations in Close-Up), but the film is a discussion, not an essay, and no sides are being taken. More importantly, Certified Copy is interested in the way this view of art infects the way these characters live their lives, such that it’s not just a question of artistic integrity but more importantly personal philosophy.
The film’s narrative loop is its most immediate draw, but Certified Copy has more to offer than simply intellectual games. Binoche in particular gives the film real emotional impact, and whatever the relationship between these two characters, the way they interact is painfully real and difficult to watch. While the film was crafted with obvious care—evinced by its overpowering beauty and its subtle finesse in creating an entire world from off-screen space—Certified Copy’s ideas and themes work naturally as part of these characters lives, such that higher questions never overpower the importance of their essential humanity.
Certified Copy hits on all levels, offering a movie that’s just as complex formally as it is emotionally. It’s been a decade since Kiarostami directed a real feature film, having spent the period working on documentaries and museum installations. Not to say that there’s anything wrong with them, but this is a film that shows why his absence in features has been so sorely missed. Happily, the intervening years haven’t dulled Kiarostami’s abilities in the slightest, and once again he’s delivered a picture that makes you feel with both your heart and your brain.