Certified Copy (Copie conforme) – Art 5/5 Ent 1/5 Worth 5/5
Abbas Kiarostami, widely hailed as at least one of greatest directors of the 1990s, if not the greatest, has the peculiar problem of being too good at what he does: making art films. If the culture you draw from to construct your avant garde art is poetic, philosophic, abstract, you will alienate the Understanders (the proles down in the muddy pit of the Elizabethan theater, today just replace the mud with sticky spilled Pepsi and nacho cheese) who want to see Megan Fox bent over a car. If you can handle a departure from Megan Fox, and that’s admittedly very difficult, Kiarostami is one of a handful of living directors that have a Midas touch when it comes to making ingenious, innovative and beautiful works of cinema. If it’s your first time taking in a Kiarostami film, I don’t know if I’d be quick to recommend this one, however. Certified Copy is a somewhat experimental film that would easily confuse someone without orientation in his tendencies and style, and especially someone unfamiliar with films whose narratives are intentionally elusive.
And that’s precisely what we get here: a film that ends quite contrary to its beginning, where a couple are either going on the blind date from hell pretending to be a couple, or then they are an old married couple trying to reinvigorate their love life through a romantic game, without a clear reference to which truth prevails. Certain scenes early on are jarringly confusing because of this game that Kiarostami plays, driving you to question why each character is demonstrating boiling frustration for no apparent reason. When it’s all said and done, you feel like going back and trying to figure out whether the characters are just fucking around or legitimately nuts or both. One of the final scenes has the couple walking behind and observing a tightly-knit elderly couple, offering them some timeless perspective, and that seems to be the key that delivers their exasperated reconciliation. Well, that’s monogamy for you. It’s for you and for the birds.
Two of his projects with the most exposure, Taste of Cherry and Ten, explored variable themes with a single strategy of filming almost entirely from within the confines of a car (the ultimate road picture?). Riffing off of that, Certified Copy has a tributary car scene that immediately makes you go “Aha! Self-reference!” before you’re just absolutely taken aback by Kiarostami’s awe-inspiring use of the goddamn windshield to capture both the faces of Juliette Binoche and opera singer William Shimell, as well as the reflection of the tourist honeytrap of Italian buildings while they’re driving down a narrow cobblestone street. That’s some Krzysztof Kieslowski, reflection in Binoche’s eyeball, Three Colors: Blue shit right there.
Certified Copy can best be judged as experimentation by Kiarostami, and though some might disagree, I think it delivered. If you don’t give two craps about the inner psychology of characters, and feel seasick in a story that actively tries to deceive you, at the very least you can be pleased with the gorgeous Italian setting, which is captured with far more visual sense than a tourist’y movie like Under the Tuscan Sun. Juliette Binoche was chosen by him for this project because of her vulnerability and scatter-brained manner, which somewhat diminishes the praise for developing her character, but nevertheless she’s brilliant as usual. First time actor Shimell, whether he’s a prick in real life or not I do not know, comes off as a genuinely stuffy narcissistic fuddy duddy. Take that as you will. Kiarostami knows how to pick his actors, you can’t take that away from him.