For a veteran of film-making, Abbas Kiarostami has mostly stuck to filming within his homeland of Iran. Certified Copy marks his first foray outside his turtle-shell, and what better talent to have at your disposal, than the beautiful belle of France, Juliette Binoche..and what better place to do your filming than the seductive locales of Italy?
In a fashion so typical of all his movies, Kiarostami opens his film with such a passive perspective on his two main characters, that though being comfortable to watch from a bystander's point-of-view, it's more like eavesdropping on them. With a lecture that's purposefully boring, the story progresses just the way it started, like a work-in-progress, also ending with the same level of uncertainty and doubt.
Elle, a french antique-dealer and James (British opera-singer William Shimell in his first film-role) meet at a book-reading, where James is promoting his new book on the value of copies in art. Apparently, Elle is comfortable speaking French, English and Italian whenever she could, while James, who can understand these languages, still prefers to speak in his impeccably British-accented English. Elle has come to the reading along with her son, who immediately senses in her an urgent need to connect with James. This is revealed in a long, but witty and funny conversation between mother and son, which reveals that they're both living separately from the father at the moment. Through his agent/publicist, Elle obtains a private audience with James, which later evolves into a conversation-filled trip to the Italian countryside, one that winds in and out of their personal lives just like the road they travel, until they arrive at a quiet village in Tuscany. The conversation initially tends to stick to the topics relating to copies in art. But as we follow these two down the narrow lanes of the cobbled country-side, weaving in and out of museums, galleries, parks and around beautiful statues, we sense that each of the two are at complete ease in giving vent to emotions, even when one can sense that the other is trying to steer the conversation in a different direction, going with the flow with the same level of seriousness as the other.
After one particular scene in a coffee-house, the conversation and it's corresponding reactions and emotions get so personal and impassioned with formal tones taking a steep dip, you begin to look closer into the true nature of the bond between the Elle and James. Are the two, actually like-minded people who have just met and found themselves in each other? Are they in love? Have these two met previously? Are they role-playing each other? Do they share a history longer than we think? Or even worse, is James actually the father of Elle's child? Or do these questions even matter at all?
From a deeper perspective, the subtly beautiful locales of Tuscany and also the actors' respective appearances might seem distorting, while appearing to be distractingly beautiful. The sole focus of your attention is instead focused on deciphering the nature of a relationship, through merely overhearing what two people have to talk and share. And for a professional actress, Juliette Binoche is at ease in supplementing her dialogue with facial reactions that seem both genuine, while at the same time restrained and coy. She is certainly the most beautiful woman in the world. I can’t think of another actor, male or female, who can light up the screen like she can with a simple smile. It’s a radiant thing. She won the Best Actress prize at Cannes for her work here, and it’s not hard to see why. Shimell is brilliant as a man who is obviously smitten by love, while using his sternness to bring about the doubt as to how old his love really is. I'm actually happy the director chose an unknown actor over the great Robert DeNiro, who while being awesome, would have overshadowed the uncertain theme completely with his mere presence in the film. My guess is that the two really ARE a married couple and that the impassiveness we see at the beginning was the certified copy.
I will certainly be watching this a second time, simply to see if it would answer my questions, by showing some hint of recognition between the characters, something that I might have missed earlier, simply because I wasn't looking for it. This review was the result of a glorious week for movies in Chennai, which allowed the screening of this yet-unreleased film as a part of the 8th Chennai International Film Festival, last week. I doubt the U.S. release is even close to being conformed. And as far as our Indian cities are concerned, yes we pirate them as long as we don’t have a choice.
By Fazil, for Passionforcinema.com
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