Thursday, 1 November 2012

Certified Copy/Copie Conforme (2010, Abbas Kiarostami)

To say Certified Copy is Abbas Kiarostami's most accessible work speaks for how ambitious and inspired the career of this remarkable filmmaker has been. It does, however, start off very traditionally in a narrative that at first appears to adhere to a romantic formula before descending into a layered mystery tackling the nature of human relations, marriage, perception, and time.

Beginning in Tuscany, English author James Miller delivers a seminar on his latest book which shares the title of the film. In walks a woman late to the meet and greet who is clearly an enthused fan of his work, her irritable son however makes enjoying the suave Englishman's analysis on the nature and value of originality amongst art very difficult. Leaving a message and phone number for James with a close member of his entourage she takes leave; naturally James and this woman meet again where they spend the day getting to know each other. This seemingly straightforward romantic endeavour ends up asking for the upmost attentiveness from its viewers as we're constantly prompted to re-evaluate the scenario throughout. How well do James and Elle really know each other? How much of our understanding is being manipulated by Kiarostami?

At the heart of the film is James' theory represented in his book; that the value, depth, and meaning of a art comes from the infinite subjectivity of a spectator's perception of it. The piece itself is meaningless but its placing and how it's viewed within time and space is the deciding factor of its worth; the example of Wharhol is depicted for he made everyday objects like coca cola bottles into profound statements on modern life. This emphasis on the perceptive value of a piece rather than the object itself gives way to another question of the importance and warrant of true originality.

This idea put forth, that a copy can be just as important as an original is fascinating, especially when considering the cinematic heritage of such a film. Whilst watching I was reminded of the works of Alain Renais and his Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) and Last Year At Marienbad (1961), of Michelangelo Antonioni and La Notte (1961), and more superfluously Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise/Sunset (1995/2004). These films come from a similar place in their preoccupations with the passing and often fleeting nature of time, of relationships in decline, and fading/haunting memories. Whereas these films take place over the course of a day, charting a day in the life of their subjects, what Kiarostami portrays here is outstanding and a tall intricate order as he presents sprawling years of marriage in mere hours, tinkering on real time. Here is a film, not unlike many others, that draws on past examples to take another direction, to further examine a theme, or to take a right turn where others have failed to. Certified Copy isn't claiming to be as great as Renais' masterpiece but to me, with its reflections of art, desires to be seen in a filmic bloodline from such examples to emphasise this concept spoken of throughout.

Juliette Binoche is unsurprisingly brilliant as Elle, an often moving portrayal of a woman desperate to once again be appreciated. Her performance, like the film itself, is an intricate journey of emotions; the film's tightrope like nature of execution hangs desperately in the balance of the two focal characters and Binoche at no point drops the ball. The same can't for William Shimell as James, a casting choice not unakin to the ambitious methods of Kiarostami as the relatively inexperienced actor is by nature an opera singer. Shimell shines as James in the first half; his suave and guarded English nature lending perfectly at first before being drowned (unapologetically) by the growing tensity of Binoche's presence in latter scenes. What at first appears to be a fair race rapidly tilts as the couple enter rawer territory, thankfully Shimell just keeping the film holding comfortably.

There was going to be expected teething problems as Kiarostami embarked on his first European endeavour, though there is nothing large enough to quibble over to stop Certified Copy being a success. Mostly due to the complex nature of his film and the confident inspired execution of it. With superb control of subject, faultless compositions, and profoundly moving images throughout, this is a film containing deep human truths and a one requiring upmost attention for the best return. Some may argue this is far from Kiarostami's best, hardly holding a light to his earlier Iranian films but I for one am excited for this seemingly new phase of one of the world's most unclassifiable filmmakers.

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