One of the most interesting films of the 2010 Cannes Film Festival is Abbas Kiarostami’s Tuscan romance Certified Copy starring Juliette Binoche and William Shimell. What initially appears to be a story of a chance meeting between two people quickly becomes something much more. What is going on exactly? Have these two people known each other for 15 years or more? Are they just meeting? Is this even a linear narrative telling one cohesive story or perhaps just a series of vignettes representing all that could take place on a couples’ one day tour of Tuscany? The film plays with your mind and I had a hard time enjoying it until it was over and I began piecing it together from the little clues Kiarostami gave me.
Shimmel plays James Miller, an English author whose latest book, “Certified Copy,” speaks to the heart of the film. His book looks at the years of replica and copied artworks and says a copy is just as relevant as the original. After all, if you’re told a copy is the original and have already placed value in it, does it make it any less valuable if you’re then told it is in fact a copy? It would seem Kiarostami is asking the same question about his duplicitous story.
Binoche plays an unnamed woman referred to only as “She”. We first meet her as she sits in on James’s press conference for his new book. She hands the translator a note with her phone number and, with her son, heads off to a nearby restaurant. It’s here that her son teases her for having a crush on James. She’s guarded as to her intentions, but we think it’s only because he’s too young to understand adult infatuation, but perhaps there’s more to it. He asks why she doesn’t reference him by his surname, a curious question I still haven’t gotten to the bottom of, but it is the first clue given letting us know this isn’t going to be just another love story in Tuscany. Then again, maybe it is… maybe it’s every love story.
The note left for James leads to a date between our two leads. Things are a bit off from the start as the two don’t speak to each other as if they’ve first met, but they’re not finishing each other’s sentences either. There’s no playful flirting and it seems assumed they’re going on a date. While there is no first date fidgeting, there remains an unspoken awkwardness the audience doesn’t seem privy to.
The scenery changes, we’re now in a car, next in a coffee shop, walking down the cobblestone streets, in a restaurant and finally a hotel. Each scene plays independently of one another. “She” consistently goes through a series of a emotions in each, from happiness, to sadness, anger and indifference, but once each scene ends she’s the same person she was at the start of the film, but not necessarily the person she was two minutes ago. Again, what is going on?
Certified Copy takes its title literally. We are watching a couple play out the roles of any number of couples before them. This is to say they know each other and they don’t know each other. It’s a film examining relationships one moment at a time and once the moment passes we move on to the next. Binoche and Shimmel are playing any one couple as much as they are playing all couples, in what amounts to Kiarostami’s attempt at a wholly universal love story in every sense of the phrase.
Most interesting is the ambiguous naming of Binoche’s character along with much of the dialogue in the film. Interpretations could be made saying all women are uncontrolled balls of emotion made whole by a man who loves and provides for them. By giving James a name it implies men are firm in their convictions and sure of themselves. Whether this is sexist or not is a question I will leave up to the ladies in the audience, but it definitely doesn’t go unnoticed.
So, it would seem, all that’s left is to determine whether or not it works. Considering my experience, and having the ability to discuss it for about 20 minutes immediately afterward, yes, it works. It has a fascinating ability to stimulate the mind and forces you to ask questions, that is unless you have decidedly to entirely dismiss it as did several audience members at my Cannes screening that bellowed several “boos” as the film ended. However, what would a stimulating movie be if it weren’t for a group of people that decided a movie that makes you think isn’t worth their time.
Certified Copy doesn’t decide itself for the audience, which is a problem for a lot of people. With a fair amount of confusion throughout, the fact it isn’t nicely tied up in the end is sure to leave some audience members upset. Instead this film is interested in allowing you to come to your own conclusions, but it does give you enough to start your journey of understanding.