Monday, January 9, 2012
Certified Copy ****
Cast: Juliette Binoche, William Shimell
Jean-Claude Carrière, Agathe Natanson
Gianna Giachetti, Adrian Moore
The entire world of ideas that lies behind Certified Copy is best summed up in its final shot - fear not, no spoilers ahead - just before the credits start rolling the camera fixes itself inside a hotel room, right in front of a window: a church's bell-tower erected outside, surrounded by other roofs. The window itself is surrounded by an alluring darkness which perfectly frames the external landscape. For what seems to be a split second we wonder if we are watching a hanging picture or real life. Then again, what is "real life" within a motion picture?
Based on the idea that the entire world might as well consist of a series of copies of absolutely everything, Abbas Kiarostami delivers a cerebral movie that also happens to be ravishingly romantic.
The film opens during a lecture given by art historian James Miller (Shimell) who's written a book called "Certified Copy" in which he ponders if the reproduction of an art piece has any intrinsic value or is this worth exclusive to the "original". A woman (Binoche) leaves the lecture early to have a meal with her son (Moore) but meets Miller the following day to have him sign the six copies of the book she bought.
They end up spending the rest of the day together, discussing art, relationships, language and well, life in general.
Along the way there is a twist of sorts but to linger on it would be a disservice to a movie that feels almost dreamlike in its structure.
The movie seems to operate on two different levels, on one part we have the relationship between the lead characters. Since we never know the woman's name, she could easily embody anyone (even us) and her chemistry with James is fascinating.
You could spend the entire day following them around and never get bored with their musings. The film makes it so easy for us to intrude in their conversation that at no time do we feel like we're eavesdropping. During one point even, the woman looks straight into the camera and waves, as if she's aiming at us. The movie invites us to be part of the central dialogue, it expects us to have an opinion, even if the characters never seem to agree on whether opinions are worth anyone's time.
That the film is both elitist and approachable is an achievement in itself and perhaps a lot is owed to the delicious performances given by Binoche and Shimell. Opera singer Shimell debuts onscreen with an electric performance, making James an intellectual we'd actually want to listen to and nobody out there lights up the screen with the effortlessness of Binoche.
All of her moves contain such grace that she might be talking about the weather and we'd still be fascinated by her. The fact that she doesn't talk about peculiarly superficial topics makes her beyond alluring, like one of the art pieces mentioned throughout the film.
Even if in a way, she's merely playing a symbol, Binoche fills this woman with such warmth that we find ourselves staring at the eternal battle between heart and intellect.
Because regardless of how entertaining the film is, it's an unquestionably intellectual movie, which dares the audience to participate in its game. "We are only the DNA replicas of our ancestors" establishes Miller, as Kiarostami rejoices in displaying repetition (during the first sequence the same joke is repeated within five minutes, Miller tells a joke about the simplicity of repetition, the woman buys six books etc...)
The film is filled with clues about a puzzle we're probably not even supposed to be solving. It makes for such pleasurable viewing that you don't want to enter its world of ideas right there and then, you want it to let it wrap around you with its strictly carnal pleasures.
"It'd be stupid of us to ruin our lives for an ideal" says a wise café owner (Giachetti) during one of the film's greatest scenes and she might as well be referring to the experience of watching the movie. Of course, afterwards you can't seem to get the film's concepts out of your head. What is Kiarostami saying about life? About art? "Art is not an easy subject to write about" says Miller, aiming towards the film's elusive center. In the end you have to wonder if Kiarostami had something specific to say or is this a stream of consciousness essay. For proof of how the movie stimulates the brain, here's a question: considering you're watching the movie on home media or a theater and that these are themselves copies of a first print, does the film's value diminish? Even in case you're watching it for the second or third time, does each viewing add any value to it? Certified Copy invites you to explore art and cinema in particular as a window to the soul and in the process will make you wonder what are souls even made of. Instead of feeling frustrating in its constant wondering about the world, it makes you feel that food for thought rarely feels this pleasurable.