They were met...in a way. For quite a while I was captivated by the events and during the first half (the film is split, not in an obvious way but a clear one) time really flew by. The chemistry between the exceptional leads was fantastic, the dialogue was interesting (and delves into an array of philosophies and topics), the film beautifully shot (effectively utilising the stunning locations and making use of lengthy takes and mirrored reflections in an interesting way), thought provoking and densely philosophical. I don't want to delve too far into the specifics of the plot, because this would be disservice to anyone yet to see the film, but it is masterfully directed by Kiarostami. He knows exactly what he wants out of every scene - and the way that the emotions of the pair are heightened in the second half means that it not only intriguing, but also quite affecting. The second half is bizarre, much less 'enjoyable' and a little frustrating. Observing these two very different people, though they have a mutual interest in art, converse (and sometimes heatedly disagree), is fascinating. We want to learn more about them, their views on art and their experiences with life. We want to follow them to more beautiful Tuscan locations - until one realises that they may not be as likeable as we initially thought. A viewer is left with questions difficult to answer.
British writer James Miller (Shimell) is in Tuscany to introduce and discuss his new book, 'Certified Copy', where he argues that issues of authenticity are irrelevant because every reproduction is itself an original and even the original has a recognisable point of origin/influence. Beauty of the artwork is in the eye of the beholder - and a recent example is The Tree of Life, a beautiful film which is an experience unique to the individual. How can one criticise someone else for their opinion of that film? Some admire and respect a piece of work in private, while others who may/may not like the work, will try and justify their opinion and convince others that they are right (hmm, that sounds familiar). The way that a piece of work is viewed can actually alter its meaning (and there are several examples of this throughout the film - both with works of art, and with the characters themselves). A copy (in the film universe, a re-make?) is generally viewed with a certain level of discontent, regarded as distasteful and/or lacking respect. When you heard about Matt Reeves' Let Me In or David Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, did you receive it with cynicism or disdain, or were you genuinely excited about the project? For most people, probably the former.
A French antiques dealer, Elle (though I don't remember ever learning her name), played by Binoche, attends Miller's talk with her 11-year-old son in the hopes that he will sign the copies of the book she has bought for her relatives. Due to her son's disinterest she is forced to leave early, but leaves her number with a colleague of Miller's. The next scene opens with Miller arriving at Elle's store to meet Elle, with Miller suggesting that they spend the day together and explore the countryside. They start out driving around aimlessly, Miller signs the books, and they discuss originality, before Elle decides to drive them to a local town. They visit a museum, sit together in a cafe, and continue to converse about art, life and everything in between. The written dialogue and the performances are wonderful - making these intellectual discussions flow together beautifully. We admire these characters as much as we admire the beauty of the countryside, and how different this film feels from any other romantic drama.
This is where the *spoilers* come into it.
The film then makes a bizarre turn, when the owner of the cafe mistakes Miller as Elle's husband. Elle decides not to correct the owner (perhaps liking the idea that James is viewed as her husband) and they start discussing him in particular, prompting Elle to reflect on her failed marriage, her actual husband's delayed absence and her inability to control her son. She begins to analyse her evident attraction to her companion (who is outside answering a phone call at this time). We assume James will be oblivious to this, until he reciprocates by moulding into a new role. Suddenly their lives feel weirdly mutual, and despite having seemingly met one another that very day, their relationship seems much more complex. Who is James? It's impossible to discredit him as an art historian, but we are never revealed as to Elle's husband's profession. Is their eerie familiarity a facade and a means to replicate Elle's failed relationship with her husband? Or is James actually her husband?
One is left feeling unsure (because the film is inconclusive) - and you get the sense that Kiartostami is playing around with the idea of originality and ambiguity. As an art form, Certified Copy replicates many romantic dramas, and notably Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise/Sunset, and seems to be influenced by Alain Resnai's Last Year in Marienbad, but it is the definition of unconventional 'art film', and it knows it. Kiorastami is toying with an audience's expectations, and the film copies a structure - but at the same time proving to be completely unconventional and original...and a little frustrating to be sure. But, the performances are wonderful - I have loved Binoche in everything I have seen her in (Bleu, Chocolat, Code Unknown and Cache), while Shimell is impressive, especially for his first work in a feature. What more can be said about the photography, which is just about perfect in every scene (and I was reminded of Taste of Cherry during the early drive). For many it's a beautiful and intellectually stimulating film, for others it is a complete bore. I did check my watch in the latter half more than I expected, but I still found plenty to admire about Certified Copy, while understanding very little. This has been a bit of a ramble, but perhaps another viewing will help decipher the clues? Then again, perhaps there are no clues.
My Rating: ★★★★ (B)