Certified Copy

Certified Copy

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"At least I was playing," the heroine's young son declares at the start of this film, defending how he has been spending his time. Play is important; games, and pleasure, and delight in simple things. Yet Juliette Binoche's unnamed protagonist is strangely uptight in this regard, puzzled by her sister's love of costume jewellery and a man with a stammer.

Can copies or imitations ever be as important as the real thing? Perhaps with the intention of discovering this, she persuades visiting writer James (William Shimell) to accompany her on an afternoon adventure through the countryside near her Tuscan home. He's just written a book defending the value of copies. But are either of them ready to put the theory to the test?

Copy picture

This is a film that takes a long time to get started. The awkwardness of the pair's initial discussions, their unwieldy philosophical meanderings, seems deliberate; we are invited to look below the surface, to try and fathom the nature of their game. Are they in fact playing the same game at all? Do they understand the same rules? When the heroine suddenly starts telling a café owner that James is her husband, inventing complex stories about their relationship, we wonder if she's had a psychotic break. Can she persuade him to go along with her fantasy? Is it safe for him to do so? And what happens when there is nobody else around; when the fantasy exists just between the two of them, full of imitation bitterness as well as imitation love? What does it mean to choose to inhabit a different reality?

All these questions are fascinating, but they're weighed down by that leaden early dialogue, which rather takes the wind out of them. What's more, to work, the film depends on strong performances. Binoche, who gets better and better with age, as well as more beautiful, is superb - there's a danger of hamminess as her character veers off the rails, but her subtle work in slower scenes easily brings things back on track. Unfortunately William Shimell, opposite her, just doesn't have what it takes. He's an opera singer dabbling in acting and really not the right man for the part. Perhaps this was part of director Kiarostami's point - can this imitation actor be as good as the real thing? Unfortunately the answer is all too clear. In a pivotal restaurant scene where Binoche is giving it her all, he sounds like he's reciting the menu. His is the quieter, more reserved role, but that doesn't justify such a wooden performance.

Certified Copy also suffers from being too slow in places, as if scenes were inserted simply as filler to pad out the hours we must imagine within this strange day. Fortunately it is always beautiful to look at. Luca Bigazzi's sumptuous cinematography really makes the most of fantastic locations. The sound work is also very good and creates a feeling of immediacy vital to engaging with the characters' impulsive behaviour. It's just a shame that this intriguing idea hasn't developed into the gem of a film it should have been. Of course, an original gemstone, unpolished, is really just a rock; perhaps someday a copy of the film will be made that allows it to shine.

Reviewed on: 27 Aug 2010
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When an art historian persuades a writer to accompany her on a drive through rural Tuscany, a strange game develops.
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Director: Abbas Kiarostami

Writer: Abbas Kiarostami

Starring: Juliette Binoche, William Shimell, Gianna Giachetti, Adrian Moore

Year: 2010

Runtime: 106 minutes

Country: France, Italy, Iran

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