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Friday, August 29, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 84.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Certified Copy is a romance that feels like homework
Tuscan puzzler
Love in an afternoon.
Love in an afternoon.

Made in France, Certified Copy is master filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami's first feature narrative to be filmed outside his homeland of Iran. The movie toys with ideas suggested by the title: why we assume that copies do not have the same value as the originals, and whether anything within the human purview can be truly original. Kiarostami has worked with these ideas before, but here they are crystallized in what otherwise seems like a breezy romance that occurs during the course of one sunny afternoon in Tuscany.

A romance in Tuscany?! How many times before have we witnessed a similar setup? In self-reflexive fashion, Kiarostami is subjecting himself to the challenge to create something new and original from a timeworn premise. And for the most part, the filmmaker succeeds, but this is not accomplished without also calling to mind other love-in-an-afternoon movies such as Before Sunset and L'Avventura.

Juliette Binoche, who received the 2010 Best Actress award at Cannes for this role, plays a woman only identified in the credits as "She." She attends a lecture by a British author named James Miller (William Shimell), who pontificates about his book Certified Copy. She leaves early but manages to slip her phone number to Miller, and he appears at her antique shop thereafter. Amid her antiques and replicas, they decide to go for a drive, but instead of gazing at the lovely scenery, they continue to discuss and debate his claim that copies are as authentic as their originals.

While at a cafe, the proprietress speaks about them as though they are a married couple, and from that point it becomes unclear whether this might be an accurate appraisal of their relationship. Are they revisiting the place where they got married? Is she teasing or for real when she complains that he always forgets their anniversary?

Little things begin to mount, and the viewer can never be certain if the marriage is real or play-acted. Esteemed screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière (who frequently worked with Luis Buñuel) appears as a character during a critical juncture. The languages spoken slide easily among Italian, French and English, further creating the sense of none of them being authentic.

This open-ended narrative feels more like a frustrating intellectual exercise than a drama with interlaced characters. Were it not for the transcendent presence of Binoche, I suspect Certified Copy might feel even more like homework.

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