‘Certified Copy’ is a perfectly imperfect romance


The power of Abbas Kiarostami’s masterful Certified Copy is evident in its subtlety. The movie is not an exercise in complex plotting or convoluted affairs. It’s as simple as a movie can be: two people, alternately enjoying and despising the company of each other. What may sound dull is brought to beautiful life by the gifted actors, Juliette Binoche (an Oscar winner for The English Patient) and William Shimell.

James Miller (Shimell) is a celebrated British author who stops over in Tuscany, Italy, to promote his latest book, an academic piece on the importance of copies in the world of art. Is it necessary to experience Michelangelo’s original David in the halls of a Florence museum? Or, is seeing a replica in the Piazza Signoria adequate? Is it the piece of art, or the emotions that the piece evokes, that matter most? In the audience for one of James’ lectures is Elle (Binoche), who is struck by the central conceit of the book.

Unfortunately, she needs to leave the lecture early with her teenage son, so she leaves a note for James to meet her down the block at her art and antique gallery. He chooses to accept the invitation and the great conversation begins.

Kiarostami cleverly keeps the details of this burgeoning relationship in the background. It appears that Elle and William are meeting each other for the first time, almost like they are enjoying a first date. But then their conversation begins to show signs of a shared history. They begin to argue and reveal their emotions almost like they were a married couple. Is this a first encounter or just another Sunday in the life of a struggling marriage?

Obvious parallels to William’s book about originals and their copies emerge. But Kiarostami never hits the audience over the head with his veiled artistry. At its heart, Certified Copy is a prolonged conversation, spoken in English, French and Italian, that takes place in restaurants and squares around Tuscany. And Italy has never looked better: the curvy streets and quaint caf├ęs seem like perfect postcards when captured by Kiarostami’s lens.

Thankfully, Shimmel and Binoche are more-than-able actors, making their dialogue sing like a novel. Throughout the film’s 106 minutes there is never a dull moment, never a second when you feel like Elle and James have worn out their welcome.

Certified Copy is a magical testament to the enduring genre of romance. Love (and hurt) can be displayed on screen in non-melodramatic fashion. It just takes the right ingredients, and a little mystery, to propel the proceedings.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
  • Certified Copy

  • 2011

  • Written and directed by Abbas Kiarostami

  • Starring Juliette Binoche and William Shimell

  • Running time: 106 minutes

  • Unrated

  • Rating: ★★★★

  • Click here to purchase Certified Copy on DVD.

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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