Monday, 12 September 2011

“I’m afraid there’s nothing simple about being simple”

Certified Copy: directed and written by Abbas Kiarostami

* The crux of the film rests on a twist, of sorts, somewhere at the halfway point. Knowing the twist doesn’t dilute the film’s worth, but spoilers abound.
James Miller is at a small function to talk about his new book “Certified Copy”. It’s a discourse on the artistic value of reproductions. Therein, we are introduced to what is to be the crucial theme of Kiarostami’s feature. A mother brings her uninterested son along to the function forcing her to leave early. We’re not exactly sure where the film intends to go from there when the next morning the writer shows up at the woman’s shop and the two head for a day out in Tuscany.
A significant portion of Kiarostami’s narrative is deliberately ambiguous. The two chat for the first half of the film like strangers who share a strange bond. She, is an art dealer, he is an art critic so the conversation shifts to the merit of his novel which the woman seems to be confrontationally towards at times. Kiarostami forces the audience’s hand – making them participants in the discussions between the man and the woman. Miller continues to argue that a copy has no less value than an original, and his argument is so naturally constructed that it seems more improvised than scripted. We’re not seeing a story playing out, but watching conversations as they unfold, moving along in cadence that’s vaguely farcical
Halfway through the film James recounts an experience which precipitated the writing of his novel, which seems oddly, tied to the woman. Right there we experience a shift in the narrative – moving from a lilting, vaguely comedic structure to one that is sweet melodrama. Their conversations lead them to a café which is interrupted by a phone call for James. The woman in the café mistakenly refers to James as the woman’s husband and from then on the narrative seems to work as if they are a married couple. Kiarostami is clearly trying to get us thinking – would the film’s worth be heightened if the two are married. Does the possibility that they’re merely pretending make their interactions less poignant?

Thus, the film’s aim is to be a simple collection of conversation but that simplicity is not simply created. Kiarostami strikes gold in the form of his leading lady. Juliette Binoche’s work in The English Patient ranks as one of my favourite supporting performance but her work here is easily the finest I’ve seen her. She moves through the range of sensibilities from melodramatic to comedic in English, Italian and French. Opera singer William Shimmell represents both her foil and her ally. He doesn’t have the same fluidity of Binoche, but few actors do, and although his fustiness comes across a bit perceptibly it would seem that it is necessary for Binoche’s spritely characterisation to reach its potential. Our lady retreats to the bathroom to put her armour of lipstick and potentially fake jewellery which our critic fails to notice, and it leads a ferocious conversation - the film's highlight. The passion of it depends not on who they are, but how beautifully they interact.
When the film ends conventionality will ensure that we ask the question…what is their relation? But, Kiarostami it seems is telling us that it matters not. The film depends not on the relationship they share, but in the way they interact with each other. That is the reality of the film, and not tenuous things such as their connexion. And, yet, I may be wrong. The beauty of the film is that with the simplicity of conversations it presents a plethora of talking points. It is provocative, deliberately so and Kiarostami takes a risk that is both simple and exotic. It works for me.


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