Published Mar 24, 2011"It'd be stupid of us to ruin our lives for an ideal," says an elderly Tuscan café owner to Juliette Binoche while discussing the differences and imbalances between men and women in relationships. This comes moments after she observes that Binoche's Elle is a French woman in Italy speaking English to British husband James (William Shimell), asking, "He doesn't speak your language, nor Italian?" Binoche replies, "He only speaks his own language," a profound observation if ever there was one. The café owner smiles and states, "But you speak his. Good for you."
Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami's latest self-conscious, analytical conversation piece, Certified Copy, is chock-full of these observations and allusions, taking the subject of art criticism and debate about the ideal of originality and connecting it to the very core of human conflict and connection. Like most of his films, story is secondary to characterizations and concepts, acting mostly as an incidental bonus to the series of Before Sunrise/Sunset conversations that unfold while Elle and James walk and drive through the village of Lucignano. There's even the occasional inside joke, such as an explanation for setting conversations in moving cars, something that takes up the bulk of his earlier works, like Taste of Cherry and Through the Olive Trees.
But this quietly intelligent and deeply touching story isn't parochial, limiting accessibility to art academics or viewers already familiar with Kiarostami's library of work. It's quite universal in its handling of seemingly erudite subjects, suggesting that there are similar affectations in those that champion original works of art and people content with copies, working hard to be unique or assimilative, respectively. There's nothing pretentious, even if some of the opinions and analyses may frustrate viewers with strong views on the varying subjects.
Beyond the layered, wondrous screenplay and thoughtfully neurotic and complex performances from both leads, there is a sense of geographic specificity. It's no coincidence that this story of art and tolerance is set in Italy, canvassing remote villages and the countryside for a sense of something more than can be seen on a postcard.
As always, Kiarostami has considered every aspect of his work, giving his audience an abundance of thematic and form-based material to contemplate and apply to their lives. Certified Copy is yet another triumph from a master filmmaker. (Mongrel Media)