Certified Copy, a metaphysical journey of art and love

Our May film features two masters, one an actor, the other a director. The actor is the French Juliette Binoche, the other the world-renown Iranian film director Abbas Kiorastami.

The film is called Certified Copy and challenges viewers to distinguish between what is real and what is fake.

Binoche, entering her prime, is known world-wide for taking chances. She turned down a role running away from Tyrannosauruses in Spieburg’s Jurassic Park in favor of a contemplative, inward role in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Blue (1993), part of a trilogy (Red, White) about the effects of the death of loved ones. In Blue, Binoche acts in, not out. She has lost her family to a car accident and wishes to cut herself off from human contact and most of the world.

Binoche captured the world with her role in The Unbearable Lightness of Being of 1988, based on a novel by Milan Kundera and directed by the American Phillip Kaufman. Binoche plays a sensitive photographer documenting the “Prague Spring” of 1968 when Poles rose up against the occupying Soviets.

Binoche is probably best known around the world for her role in The English Patient (1996), directed by Anthony Minghella, a story about a nurse caring for a badly burned pilot (Ralph Fiennes). This film won nine Oscars; Binoche won for best supporting actress.

In Certified Copy, Binoche plays the owner of an art gallery and print shop in Tuscany who meets a writer who has just brought out a book having to do with copies of great art.

Iranian-born Kiarostami enjoys an international reputation for making films about universal themes which transcend national or regional origins. In The Wind Will Carry Us (1999) a documentary filmmaker goes into a small town in Iran to film an obscure funeral ritual. A women is dying but hangs on, and the longer she lives the more money the filmmaker has to spend to board and feed his crew. It’s a curious moral dilemma.

Kiorastami’s Taste of Cherry concerns a middle-aged man, one Mr. Baddii, who desires to commit suicide. Trouble is, in Muslim Iran, tradition dictates that the deceased receive a speedy burial. Basdii spends practically the whole film finding someone who will throw dirt on him dead in his grave.

Kiarostami is a man of many talents. Imdb.com lists him as the writer of 42 films, including The White Balloon, directed by Jafar Panahi. This film is about a child who wants to buy a goldfish to celebrate the New Year. But adults hustle her out of her money. Iranian filmmakers like to make films about children to get around censorship, but often their stories contain metaphors which reflect oppressive conditions in Iranian society. Kiarostami has also written poetry and novels and mastered photography.

Kiarostami’s films are often ambiguous and symbolic. Often one viewing is not enough. (Consider seeing Certified Copy at 5:30, having dinner, then returning for the 8 pm screening.) Here is imdb.com’s sparse description of the story of Certified Copy.

In Tuscany to promote his latest book, a middle-aged British writer meets a French woman who leads him to the village of Lucignano. While there, a chance question reveals something deeper.

Look how Stephen Holden of the New York Times starts his review:

The Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami’s delicious brain tickler, “Certified Copy,” is an endless hall of mirrors whose reflections multiply as its story of a middle-aged couple driving through Tuscany carries them into a metaphysical labyrinth.

What follows is four-way contemplation among married vs. not married and real art vs. copied art, and the implications of all these. Kiarostami’s films have been compared to the work of Italian film director Michelangelo Antonioni (Blow Up, L’avventura) in their mind-messing challenges. Certified Copy is certainly a “labyrinth,” but one you enjoy being in. You may not find your way out by the end, but you don’t have to. Just enjoy the metaphysics of it.