I tell you, I've wanted nothing more than to honestly type out those four stars. It figures that it would come from a film that many saw last year, most saw before me, and has been in theaters for a few months. Spending such a long time away from intelligent cinema can be supremely alienating in a way, with nothing really to base reviews of other films off of. It's great practice in terms of forming your own identity as a film critic, away from the cattle of viewers who have no individual opinions because they try to think the way they believe they're supposed to think. Peer pressure and nonsense like that.
Wonderfully enough, the topic of impression and interpretation is entirely fitting for Certified Copy, a film whose plot can be read a multitude of ways. To give a bare bones plot description based on what trailers and such lead incoming viewers to believe, it all transpires across a lovely afternoon in Tuscany. A writer named James Miller, played by William Shimell, spends the day with a female French antiques dealer, played by Juliette Binoche. That's as empty and bare a plot as you can get, but Miller's latest book, which shares the same title as the film, speaks of how a copy of a work of art holds as much value as the original.
The film could just be these two individuals speaking on the topics of originality in art and within life, as well as other philosophical musings, and it still would've been a great film. However, writer-director Abbas Kiarostami does us one better, and has the two main characters play a game of sorts. As they travel throughout the day, people on the street begin to mistake them for a married couple, and as they play along with the insinuations, they seem to create a history and a dynamic between each other. This is where things become a bit tricky and far more captivating.
As the afternoon continues and we slip into the second half of the film, the lines begin to blur between these two characters. As an audience, we begin to wonder exactly what kind of game are they playing? Are they just tricking the public with an intentional facade of a difficult marriage, or have they been trying to create a facade all day by pretending that they're complete strangers. Are they indeed a married couple who are trying to trick themselves? Is one of these necessarily a right answer or a wrong answer?
The truth is that Certified Copy gives us no right or wrong answer in that core question, nor does it really have to. If you look at it either way, it ultimately does not change the way you feel about the film. Given the nature of their "game", they could be strangers who are imitating a married couple so effectively and emotionally that it affects them. Or they could be a married couple who are imitating strangers, trying desperately to cling onto what they once had, but failing as their ideals kick in and their tumultuous past returns to them. It works equally as brilliant either way you look at it.
For their part, Shimell and Binoche do a fantastic job balancing the two perspectives of reality in a way that doesn't discount either. Shimell is constantly riddled with deeply textured expression on his face that says everything without saying much, delivering his resonant speeches with charisma. Binoche handles the more emotionally compelling parts of the film with equal strength as her counterpart. The two work off each other wonderfully, but not obviously. For a lover of subtle cinema, Certified Copy is a pleasantry so rare to come by.
If there is a core scene of the film that I most appreciate, it's the one where the two characters are driving early on. It sets up the core conflict between these two characters ideologies so well and so touchingly, but it also allows us to drink in the beautiful Tuscany countryside. The film has something so intriguing to say, but it doesn't rely on that completely, even though it can. The cinematography is conducted with care and slight appreciation, but it lets the characters tell the story. After seeing the film a first time, I had to go back to it immediately and spend a little more time dwelling on it. You never make your mind up on what you believe the film really is, but it isn't frustrating like the ending to Inception.