It may seem strange that the film I am unable to stop thinking about is a quiet and endlessly subtle film that consists solely of two characters talking. That film is Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy. It is also one of the most finely crafted pieces of cinema I have ever seen, that will require several more viewings. It is also with those repeat viewings that I may actually grasp the complex relationship shown on screen.
It is something I must admit upfront, that I do not fully understand the relationship that is shown to the viewer. And it seems to me that this was the intention of Kiarostami, to have the film be similar to that of our perception of an iceberg. We only see what is visible, but there is much more to it than what we are able to see.
Certified Copy is Kiarostami’s first film made outside of his native Iran. Set in rural Tuscany, the film begins with an antiques dealer, played by Juliet Binoche, as she attends a speech by an author who has just written a book on the artistic value of art copies. After being pulled away by her hungry son, the unnamed woman gives her number in hopes of meeting with the author. From there, the film follows these two supposed strangers as they drive around and explore the beautiful country side of Tuscany. And that is it. That is what occurs in the film, and yet it is far more complex and intricate than I could have known.
Having never seen a Kiarostami film, I was expecting something rather light and easy, as that is what the North American trailer promised. Instead I was given a film that forced my attention like almost no film can. Every word spoken, every reaction and look given by these two characters act as clues to what is really happening in front of our very eyes. Kiarostami gives us hints, hints to something that we may never be able to fully understand. It is a technique that some may find frustrating but I found fascinating.
The film is often argued about in terms of what the true nature of the relationship between these two people is. And while I cannot say with certainty that I know the answer, it is possible that one of the first lines in the film gives us a clue. Shimell’s James Miller states during his speech that, “the copy itself has worth, in that it leads us to the original and I believe this approach is not only valid in art”. This is just one of the playful clues that Kiarostami gives us early on that something is not quite as it seems. That maybe these two people are trying to find the original through a copy of their first meeting. However, just as you begin to think you know what is happening, the characters begin to act in ways that complicate the theories.
In a way the answer doesn’t matter, if it did, Kiarostami would have given it to us. This film is about discussion, both on screen and off.
As the film came to an end, I realized I was alone in the pathetically small screening room, and I desperately wanted someone to discuss this film with. This is one picture that I have been completely unable to get out of my head and it is because of this that I waited so long to write a review for the film. Instead of shooting a character looking at a mirror, Kiarostami uses the camera as a mirror. It was with this technique that I realized something, the camera is only capturing a copy. A copy of a performance, of an idea. In that sense, film is only a copy of something that has passed, and it seems to me that these characters are trying to capture what has come and gone.