WRI/DIR: Abbas Kiarostami • PRO: Abbas Kiarostami, Angelo Barbagello, Charles Gillibert, Marin Karmitz, Nathanaél Karmitz • DOP: Luca Bigazzi • ED: Bahman Kiarostami • Cast: Juliette Binoche, William Shimell
The Gate Cinema, 6:30pm, Tuesday, 8th March 2011
Originality is a tough thing to quantify and the lines between genres are ever changing in a filmmaker’s desire to create something new. The romance genre seems particularly stifling and stubborn in its conventions and requires special care to break free of its usual dead ends.
Certified Copy is a film obsessed with the worth of reproductions. Its writer-character James Miller has just written a book extolling the virtues of copies against original works of art. The theory is that there’s as much worth in recreating and re-contextualizing a piece of artistic creation than there is in being wholly innovative. That’s where the film goes all ‘meta’ on us.
Against a very sketchy narrative we are introduced to a couple, the aforementioned English writer James and an unnamed woman.
At first they share the awkwardness of courting, both their opinions and cultural divides clashing while an attraction simmers beneath. Both are articulate but remote in their own ways but the audience can believe it is the nerves of a blossoming relationship. As the story unfolds the lines blur between roles and the viewer is cast into doubt as to what these people represent to each other. Over the course of the film they are at turns spiteful, playful, argumentative, tender and deeply wounded and the clues provided to their romantic tale are purposely obscured. This made it a lot more interesting to me as I went into this expecting a down-the-line romantic drama but instead what one gets is a psychological game writ large, snapshots of various stages of romantic elation and self destruction. Kiarostami seems to be taking the in-movie debate of originality vs. copying and applying it to rules of this world. It seems like different filmic styles are fighting for room here and by the end we have a fascinating if flawed work.
Its attempt to be so ambitious and aloof hampers the essential tragedy we should be experiencing here. It’s hard to care for these characters when we can’t quite get a handle on them. Also by serving many masters it ends up being very non-committal. Wanting to be seen as a mainstream stab at something a little different the film doesn’t embrace its more experimental side enough to snare the art house crowd and its shifts are too jarring for the casual folk seduced by the composition of the shots, which are gorgeous, but left unmoved by its central pair. The air of mild self satisfaction in its vaguely self reflexive conceit is off putting and this robs the characters of heart. It’s hard to invest in what are essentially metaphysical chess pieces moved around the board to make some half baked cinematic point.
However both performances can not be faulted, Juliette Binoche managing to be both maddening and sympathetic. She deserved her best actress win at Cannes in 2010 and to be honest this is the first time I’ve felt her really stretching as an actress outside of her mature comfort zone role she has slipped into these last few years. William Shimmel has the slightly easier job, his role being cold and off-hand but he still gracefully rises and falls with the constantly changing parameters of the piece. They convey the unsure contours of a relationship in flux with great verve but as a whole the film feels academic, its mouthpieces just there to bridge themes and viewpoints rather than actually live and breathe what they speak of. There’s a real time element as well which brings to mind the work of Richard Linklater in particular the Before Sunrise/ Before Sunset series. In fact it comes across as an older and much darker inversion of those two films. Before Nightfall perhaps?