Tuesday, 28 September 2010

'Certified Copy' review:

'Certified Copy' is a truly multi-national animal. A French, Italian and Belgian co-production, in which the dialogue is almost equally spread between French, Italian and English. Its writer and director, Abbas Kiarostami, is Iranian and its stars are the French Juliette Binoche and the English opera star William Shimell (in his first film role). The whole thing is set in Tuscany. But its nationality is probably the easiest thing to classify.

More than one critic has described it as "beguiling" and I'm not about to break ranks. Essentially, Binoche plays an antiques dealer and a single mother known only as "she" in the credits. She meets Shimell's James Miller (an author who has just written a book about the nature of originality and reproduction in art) ostensibly for the first time and they drive to a small, picturesque village for lunch. However, as you may have picked up from my not-so-subtle use of the word "ostensibly", things are not as they seem. Have the couple met before? Are they in fact a husband and wife? Or are they just a good facsimile of a couple? The answers are not altogether clear. Perhaps the more pertinent question is: does it matter?

These are the questions posed by Kiarostami's sweet and colourful film - his first feature made outside of Iran - which takes an interesting look at the idea of copies mostly via Shimell's scholarly author. Shimell is slightly wooden, affected and a bit pretentious, but no more so than an academic might be and he is a watchable presence. But it is Binoche who excels here in a role which requires her to (at times quite artificially) slip between extremes of emotion at a moments notice. Binoche is really quite something. She needs to be, as Kiarostami as always favours long takes on a single camera leaving nowhere to hide for either actor, especially when afforded one of many intense and prolonged close-ups. It is little wonder Binoche won the Best Actress award at Cannes for this role, earlier in the year.

Another Kiarostami motif recurring here is his use of a camera stuck to the bonnet of a car to capture the driver and passenger over a long, real-time journey, which is brilliantly used here. The buildings on either side of the Tuscan streets are reflected in the window, falling translucently over the protagonists, with the blue sky reflected between them. Your guess is as good as mine as to what (if any) significance that has as a visual. Perhaps seeing the sky and the buildings reproduced on a pane of glass so beautifully is proof of the virtue of a copy? In any case, it's a visually arresting film from a master filmmaker.

'Certified Copy' is difficult to talk about at length without running the risk of compromising it for those yet to see it (though perhaps any concern about the danger of "spoilers" is a testament to our belief that a copy can diminish the original?). In any case, I found it engaging and stimulating viewing, if every bit as unknowable, and well... beguiling, as I was lead to believe going in. Beautiful looking, with a terrific performance from its lead actress, 'Certified Copy' is engaging and thought-provoking cinema.

'Certified Copy' is on a limited release in the UK, playing at the Duke of York's Picturehouse in Brighton until Thursday. It is rated '12A' by the BBFC.

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