Certified Copy

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Directed by Abbas Kiarostami

Yeah, there’s SPOILERS in this one too…

It’s hard for me to discuss Certified Copy and divorce it from the Before Sunrise/Sunset films. Perhaps this influence is meant to add another layer to the themes on copy vs. originality, but the structure and aesthetics of these films are very similar. The discussion of various philosophies of life, a budding relationship or reuniting of one, the European locals, the constant walking and sight seeing… This film feels almost as though it is the third entry, the middle aged edition.

However, where the Before Sunrise/Sunset films used this to capture a moment in Linklater’s life, as well as capture the fleeting nature of love, life and everything that encompasses, Certified Copy is a bit more complex than that, at least thematically.

It’s large chunks of dialogue serve a more direct, thematic purpose rather than simply demonstrating the mindset and connection between two individuals. The most constant argument brought up in the film, and is the reason for the title, is the belief that the replica is as important as the original. That we imprint our own values onto these things yet try to devalue this immediate feeling when we are given the “truth” about them. It is an argument I had not put much thought into before and have since been thinking about and how it applies to film, and how that makes this a very strange form of art when compared with the more “traditional” styles of paintings, sculpture, and even photography. Film is a style which originals don’t matter, at least not nearly to the degree it does with others. When I show people my bluray of 2001, they do not say that I merely have a copy of the film, but rather that it is a great movie.

But I digress. These themes tie in greatly to the format of the film which is broken into two stages: The meeting and the reveal.

The meeting is just that. We are watching a man (newcomer William Shimell) and woman (Juliette Binoche) meet. The man is a writer who has based his thesis on the above idea and a woman who is an antique dealer that disagrees with him. In this first act they get to know each other and often argue. The woman is very irritable and the man is aggravatingly passive. It is in this stage that I felt the most disengaged by the film. I was tired so perhaps it is not entirely the films fault, but its similarity to my beloved films, the constant pseudo-philosophical postulating by the man, and the unprovoked aggression of the woman put me out. Not entirely, I admired the cinematography but I just couldn’t engage.

The changed in what remains probably my favorite scene of the film. An old woman “mistakes” the man for the woman’s husband and engages her in a conversation about husbands and the dynamics they have with their wives. It manages to be all at once natural and poignant, with Binoche reminding me why she’s one of my favorite actresses. This scene wholly encompasses both the themes and style perfectly.

After this is the “reveal” stage, though I reluctantly use that term. From the moment after the “mistake” (I’ll get to why I keep using quotation marks, damn it. Be patient!) they dynamic between the two shift. They begin speaking in just English and French (Binoche also frequently speaks Italian throughout the film) to each other rather than the English they originally used. They begin gradually revealing information about their history together and we gather that they are an estranged husband and wife and the constant chasm between them only grows. This enhances her outrage over his earlier agreement with her son’s rebellious antics as well as how Binoche’s name is never given nor is her son’s surname. It creates questions of why they explained things to each other even an estranged couple would know as well as his lack of knowledge about her family and life. After this point, we watch them fight and try to connect, both bitter at the direction their lives have taken them and how they wish they could just make it work. Binoche juggles the two aspects of her character incredibly, but that’s expected. Shimmel does admirably for a first timer but he simply lacks the skill and power she does and comes off as lacking in holding up his half of the screen. Despite that, I found this act wholly engaging and fascinating. The capturing of the tragedy and the juxtaposition of their current state to the happy newlyweds and the somber elderly couple carry a loveliness to them that must be admired.

After my immediate viewing I assumed that my disinterest in the opening had caused me to miss something, so I’m glad that I glanced around on the net and discovered that this ambiguity is intentional before writing this review and appearing foolish, though by this admission I may be doing just that.

It is in this structure that the title and themes gain their power. Both stories, of the meeting and of the disillusionment of a failed marriage carry with them their own truths and meanings that we can derive from them. However, if we are to accept this as a form of reality, one of them is a fake. One of them is an act. I would likely choose to believe the meeting is an act, but I don’t wish to make such claims as that would be, after all, “missing the point”. If the director were to give us such a statement it would provide a truth. We’d devalue one of these acts as the “copy” and value the other more greatly as the “original”. It is ultimately a statement on the power of the audience. It is us that gives these stories their power and meaning and us that will try to take it away over what he views as “arbitrary”. So in the context of the film, they are both originals and both copies and we must appreciate them with their own meaning.

I also liked the little nod to Chocolat with Binoche’s red shoes in her car.

Final word: It’s a very good film with some interesting ideas and themes. If you’re a fan of Before Sunrise/Sunset and want to watch a similar film, check it out. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

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