Friday, March 11, 2011

Review | "Certified Copy"

While its official sounding title may not suggest it, Abbas Kiarostami's is one of the most romantic films to come along in years. It's a love story without an actual couple, an imagined relationship that takes on unexpected qualities of reality.

The luminous as always Juliette Binoche stars as a nameless art gallery owner, who meets James Miller (William Shimell) an author she enjoys, and offers to take him on a tour of the city while he is on tour with his book. The offer at first seems innocent enough, but as their conversation turns to his book, it becomes clear that she isn't one to just accept what she reads. In fact she has issues with his central thesis - that a copy of an artwork has just as much intrinsic value as the original artwork. That the copy is, in fact, a work of art in itself.

The two begin a very heated debate until they stop off at a small cafe for a bite to eat, where the waitress mistakes the two of them for husband and wife. She does not correct the waitress, in fact she begins to create a fantasy of how they met and what their life is like together, charming the waitress and inviting her into her little ruse.

Juliette Binoche as “She” in CERTIFIED COPY directed by Abbas Kiarostami.
Photo Credit: Laurent Thurin Nal.

An IFC Films release.

And so begins their romantic Tuscan adventure. After the story is told, She and James' relationship suddenly begins to mirror that of a married couple. And as their journey continues, so too does their relationship, as each acts at their role it becomes an improvisational exercise taken to a much deeper level. They are no longer acting the relationship, they are living it. Together the two of them live out an entire marriage in one day. They go from courtship, to marriage, to estrangement, to reconciliation and beyond, blurring the line between fantasy and reality in one of the most keenly insightful studies into relationship dynamics to come along in years.

I was reminded in some ways of Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise, but unlike that film, which chronicled one night in the life of two young people meeting and falling in love, there is a lot more going on here than just two people falling for each other. Linklater's Before Sunset followed the same two people, ten years later and ten years wiser, reconnecting, and Certified Copy has more of that air. It's a bit of a mix between the two. Both people are inching past middle age and are a bit jaded in the ways of love. But in each other they find a kind of catharsis, as if they are making up for lost time, living out a fantasy (or is it reality?) that ends up swallowing them whole.

William Shimell as “James Miller” and Juliette Binoche as “She” in CERTIFIED COPY directed by Abbas Kiarostami.
Photo Credit: Laurent Thurin Nal
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An IFC Films release
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Kiarostami's screenplay is both whip-smart and deeply insightful. He manages to encapsule an entire relationship in a single day, and does so without feeling rushed. He takes his time, building each nuance and earning each emotional payoff, one leading logically to the other, and finally leaving the question of its reality up in the air. Have we just witnessed a couple falling in love by pretending to fall in love? Or have we watched them fall apart by pretending to be married. Their marital troubles are completely of their own make-up, but their arguing over them makes them, in essence, real. Is a copy of a marriage the same thing as one? Does imitation of love lead to the real thing? Kiarostami beautifully ties in his conceit with Miller's own thesis, creating something that is instantly beguiling and perfectly modulated.

Certified Copy is a love story for adults. It's a lovely, haunting thing that asks lingering questions that send a shiver of pleasure up the spine. It's the kind of film that causes skin to turn to goosebumps out of the sheer pleasure of great cinema. To watch it is to rest confidently in the hands of a master, transporting us on a romantic and devastating journey that treats love and marriage with maturity and honesty. Like Mrs. Dalloway before her, Juliette Binoche's She experiences a lifetime in a single day, and takes the audience along for a deeply compelling emotional ride, whose delicate musings linger in the mind like memories of a love long lost. For the loved, for the lost, for the wounded, Certified Copy is a cathartic and rapturous journey of the heart that won't soon be forgotten.

GRADE - ★★★½ (out of four)

CERTIFIED COPY | Directed by Abbas Kiarostami | Stars Juliette Binoche, William Shimell | Not rated | In French w/English subtitles | Opens today, March 11, in select cities.

2 comments:

Hal said...

Was torn between seeing this and "Redland" this weekend, though your endorsement may have tipped the scale.

Very well written review.

Sam Juliano said...

"While its official sounding title may not suggest it, Abbas Kiarostami's is one of the most romantic films to come along in years. It's a love story without an actual couple, an imagined relationship that takes on unexpected qualities of reality."

Indeed Matthew. Your first paragraph says it all, though the entire review is ever-so-perceptive. I saw it yesterday, and it joins POETRY, OF GODS AND MEN and UNCLE BOONME as part of a quartet of 2011 masterpieces. (yeah the purists will say 2010 for all, but like you I go with USA theaytrical release dates.) But wow, what a subtle film that exerts enormous emotional power, with superlative lead performances to boot!