For all its poetry and cinematic beauty, Certified Copy offers little gratification.
Is there ever such a thing as true art? Who or what defines authenticity? Can a copy be considered as valuable as the original to which it owes its being?
These questions form the crux of Abbas Kiarostami’s film; each posed abstractly through the theoretical discourse of our two protagonists: an Englishman (William Shimell) and a French woman (Juliette Binoche). They are a couple bonded by a common passion but estranged by the crudest of biological variations. Theirs is a universal story.
He, a revered author, and she, an antiques seller, meet on a cloudless day in rural Tuscany. A short detour takes them to the heart of the region and the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, where they soak in high culture and black coffee and retrace the ancestry of their relationship.
It is here Kiarostami seeks to broaden conventional attitudes towards artistic replication, looking beyond language and the time-honoured mores of European culture. Stripped down to its essence, Certified Copy is just another love story in a remote Tuscan village – cobblestone arteries run unbroken but for sporadic chocolate box piazzas; the tranquillity of the place happily spoilt by the soothing hum of wedding bells and birdsong. But what better place to reassess the mechanisms of postmodernism than the adopted home of Botticelli, Michelangelo and da Vinci?
For all its poetry and cinematic beauty, however, Certified Copy offers little gratification. As the genesis of the couple’s rendezvous becomes mired in misdirection and illusion, it becomes difficult to invest in them on any meaningful emotional level.
Binoche may have been Best Actress recipient in Cannes earlier in the year, but in truth her performance, while certainly accomplished, is nothing special. Shimell (an opera baritone by trade) makes the transition to the big screen comfortably, but his innate histrionics overcompensate for his character’s lack of levity.
There might be enough here to bait the cineliterate crowd, but Kiarostami frustratingly leaves the line slack for too long.
Kiarostami’s first film outside of Iran was a serious contender for the Palme d’Or.
Beautiful, elegant, sharp – just not as much as it thinks it is.
A masterpiece missed.