Certified Copy

Depending on your viewpoint, the ambiguity which runs through Kiarostamis latest effort can make for a frustrating experience or a thought-provoking one...



One of the major successes on the European festival circuit last year (Juliette Binoche earned the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival), Iranian writer-director Abbas Kiarostami\'s Certified Copy ranks as one of the more challenging and unpredictable feats in arthouse filmmaking in the past year.

The film offers another star role for Binoche as an unnamed antiques dealer and frazzled mother now living in Tuscany. When the very successful and eloquent British academic and author James Miller (William Shimell) gives a press conference in her village to promote his latest book, he meets the Binoche character and they share a fraught, abrasive afternoon in a nearby village.

Ostensibly, the film concerns the increasingly difficult relationship between this frayed, possibly delusional woman and this reasonable, but increasingly tired writer, as Kiarostami communicates their gradual distance not only through the characters\' rigid exchanges, but also visually: when Binoche\'s character overestimates Miller\'s interest in a \'certified copy\' of an Italian work of art, Shimell departs the two-shot between himself and Binoche, leaving her alone in an individual profile.

Yet, the film offers a post-modern \'twist\' that upturns expectations of this odd-couple situation and has left many questioning the \'meaning\' of the film: have these characters met before? Are they, in fact, husband-and-wife? Is the set-up to the film - a meeting between two strangers - simply an elaborate version of role-play for an increasingly stale relationship? Or - rather - is the husband-and-wife act the real \'role-play,\' a form of exaggerated emotional connection between these two outsiders in this foreign world (the Binoche character is French whilst Miller is British).

The film is challenging in that it offers the possibility of a couple of interpretations of its characters and the story itself (are they strangers or partners?), and refuses to contend - one way or another - the \'right\' or \'correct\' reading of the material. (In particular, the final, static shot recalls post-modern Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni in its simple, elegant ambiguity and suggestion, in part recognising the power of the viewer to create and critically engage with the film itself).

Yet, despite these visual ambiguities, the significance of the title - \'certified copy\' - and the relevance of Miller\'s work is difficult to ignore. In the opening sequence, Miller articulates some of the themes of his non-fiction book and the implications of \'certified copies\' - positing the idea (which is very important in the academic construct of \'book theory\') that the \'copy\' is just as important as the real relationship.

Does this mean that these two strangers are attempting to replicate similar relationships with their own (admittedly kinda crazy) connection? In this respect, does their fake relationship become real as a result of their assuming of the husband-and-wife roles? Does their \'copy\' attain the resonance and meaning of a real relationship because of the meaning in which they invest it?

However, there are many different interpretations of the film: surely, those who suggest that the two leads are married would argue that the coincidence in the middle of the film that links one another and the intensity of the two performers would suggest, at least, a sincere and very real past between the characters.

Like Inception last year, the film offers an ending that refuses to articulate a clear reading or analysis of its characters\' psyches, offering a variety of different understandings of the films\' content and will leave audiences questioning their own comprehension of the drama. This can make for a very frustrating experience (one reviewer outside the screening complained, \'what does it mean?\'), yet it is also refreshing, as well, offering viewers the opportunity to contribute something to the experience.

Clearly a filmmaker with a strong recognition of the authority and the power of audiences to give meaning to art, as evident in the final shot, it seems that Kiarostami isn\'t telling audiences one way or another.

Certified Copy is released in cinemas February 17. Win tickets to the film here.


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