LITTLE ROCK Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy is so different from most movies one is likely to encounter in U.S. cinemas that perhaps a little background is in order. Kiarostami, 70, is perhaps the leading active filmmaker to emerge from the Iranian New Wave, a movement begun in the late 1960s that also includes directors such as Bahram Beizai, Forough Farrokhzad, Dariush Mehrjui, Parviz Kimiavi and Sohrab Shahid Saless.
Beginning in 1969, with the release of Mehrjui’s The Cow, Persian filmmakers produced a deep and varied body of artful films that employed poetic dialogue and allegory and engaged social, political and philosophical issues. Consequently, in the 1970s, Iranian audiences became highly sophisticated and discriminating consumers of what American audiences might consider “art house” films.
Certified Copy is not quite Kiarostami’s first film shot outside of Iran - in 2005, he contributed the middle section to Tickets, a portmanteau film set on a train bound for Rome - but it is likely the first chance some casual moviegoers will have to see one of his films. It bears some of his trademarks - long conversations in automobiles, philosophical investigation, a visit to a small town, a documentary style and a preoccupation with children. It is also an elliptical, unresolved story that may frustrate those who want all accounts balanced by the end of the day.
The story is simple, and probably beside the point. Juliette Binoche, who deservedly won the Best Actress Award at last year’s Cannes Film Festival for her work here, is a Frenchwoman, an antiques dealer, living in Tuscany, who is identified only as “she” - or more often the French “elle.” She attends a lecture by a British author, James Miller (William Shimell, a operatic baritone making his dramatic acting debut) whose book, Certified Copy, has just been published in Italian. She has to leave the lecture early, because her preadolescent son is hungry. But before she leaves, she passes her number to Miller’s Italian translator.
Miller later shows up in her shop and suggests they go for a drive to kill some time before he has to catch his flight. During this drive, which starts out aimlessly but eventually heads for the village of Lucignano, they talk (mostly in English) and bicker about a lot of things but mostly his book. Miller’s idea is that in art, a copy can be just as valuable - as authentic - as the original work. And that every work is inherently a copy, a translation or transposition, of another work. Aren’t we ourselves DNA copies, recombinations of our ancestors?
This conversation is remarkably naturalistic, to the point that it sounds improvised, and the result is not unlike eavesdropping on some particularly erudite and interesting strangers. Though we have the feeling that she has just met this man, we can feel them sounding each other for areas of sympathy. There is something of the first date in this encounter, and it’s not all wrong to say it’s reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s real-time romances Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, albeit for a more mature crowd (who might recognize it as a an inversion of Roberto Rosselini’s Journey to Italy).
But there is a twist in Certified Copy that I won’t reveal, that will either irritate or delight you. For what it’s worth, I liked it, and felt that it was appropriate, intentionally provocative and well-earned. But I can understand if you think it a cheat.
MovieStyle, Pages 31 on 04/22/2011
Print Headline: REVIEW Certified Copy