Certified Copy Review

AKA: Copie Conforme, Copia Conforme
Genre: Drama/Romance/Dark Comedy
Year Released: 2010
Distributor: The Criterion Collection
Origin: Iran/France/Italy
Running Time: 108 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 13+
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: A Separation, Journey to Italy, Roman Holiday, Like Someone In Love, Before Sunrise, Brush With Fate, Amour
Notes: N/A
Fun Facts:
-Certified Copy is the first full-length narrative film by Abbas Kiarostami that wasn’t shot in his native Iran as well as it being the 3rd project he’s worked on outside of that country. The first is his documentary ABC Africa which was filmed in Uganda and the second is his contribution to the anthology film Tickets which was a British and Italian collaboration. Also, this is one of the few films of his that doesn’t have any Persian dialogue since it’s in Italian, French, and English.

-This was the cinema acting debut of William Shimell who played the main character James Miller. He would later be featured in Amour and Aloft. Prior to being in film, his main job was being a baritone opera singer. Given his decades performing that kind of music, it gave him an advantage when it came to speaking some parts in French and Italian.

-Abbas’s son Bahman got to be the editor for this film. Like his father, he got into the movie industry. Most of his directorial work involves documentaries such as Infidels, The Project, and Monir. He even helped out with the short film Journey to the Land of the Traveller with his dad as well as fellow Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi. Speaking of him…

-Juliette Binoche won the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival for her role as the female lead character in Certified Copy. She dedicated the award to Jafar Panahi who was just arrested at the time because of his movies (see: This Is Not a Film). This is also her 2nd film with Kiarostami after being in Shirin.

-Do you want to know who almost got the role as James Miller? You’re not going to believe this, but Robert De Niro was considered as well as in negotiation for the lead role. This is crazy especially since Kiarostami normally worked with nonprofessional actors for a majority of his films. However, he had a whole team with him.

-This movie was temporarily banned from Iran due to it being too “Western”, habing a non-Iranian producers, and because of Juliette Binoche’s attire in the film (come on, I’ve seen female characters in G and PG works who dress more scandalously than she did). After a year of it’s release it was finally allowed in Kiarostami’s home country at their movie theaters.

-Certified Copy was filmed in the Tuscany region in Cortona, Lucignano, and Arezzo. The last city was mentioned in this movie as one of the places the Binoche’s character lived at one point after moving from France. Arezzo has over 341K people living in that city. It’s actually the same city where Life Is Beautiful takes place in before the characters are captured by Nazi soldiers. Some famous residents include the Sprouse Brothers (of The Suite Life and Big Daddy fame), Federico Luzzi, and Michelangelo. Notice how art plays a major role in this film and one of Italy’s famous artists was from there during his lifetime. Yes, that’s the same artist that the Ninja Turtle is named after for those scoring at home.

The Iranian cinema scene has made quite a return at Iridium Eye. I’ve covered two other works from noted director Abbas Kiarostami for the first time and I got a chance to watch another Jafar Panahi flick after not watching anything from him for years. This time around, I get to check out a collaboration with the former with European actors and filmmakers. Granted, this isn’t the first time I’ve covered such an international collaborative affair (that would be Persepolis or to a lesser extent The Iran Job despite having a German director in the latter), so I wouldn’t call this new. Kiarostami is someone I’ve been appreciating more and more as a filmmaker by seeing the ideology of his work as well as being intrigued by his cinematography style that’s all his own. I actually wasn’t aware of his international work, so I thought this would be a nice entry into Iridium Eye as I review another one of his films.

So long, Tehran. We’re going all the way to Tuscany for this story involving art and relationships.

Certified Copy takes place in the aforementioned Central Italian region in roughly the span of a day. There’s a British author named James Miller who visits Italy to help promote his book that the movie is named after. This particular book has a successful launch in the art world and it’s about his ideology about reproducing art is original in itself as well as how the authenticity of a piece shouldn’t factor into the quality of the work. There’s a French woman who owns an antique shop in town that catches a part of his book tour keynote speech, but has to leave early due to her son Julien being hungry and distracting her. Interestingly enough, this woman is never named throughout the film. Julien has a very complicated relationship with her as he never takes his eyes off his phone even when she’s talking to him and teases her about giving her phone number to James via his translator. This leads to James visiting her shop and it goes into a drive around Tuscany as long as he gets back at the station before 9 PM. The drive starts out as a meandering trip and he autographs the copies of his book that she bought while in the car. The trip then leads to different parts of the area with various art museums, galleries, cafes, plazas, and other artsy tourist locations. This little road trip becomes much more than both of them expected as James was more than just some author she was a fan of, but he could possibly be someone with a major connection to her past.

Let me say that I had to get adjusted because Abbas Kiarostami made a movie that was intentionally…STRAIGHTFORWARD?! To say that the contrasts between Certified Copy and Taste of Cherry or especially Shirin are like night and day would be the understatement of the century. Sure, this would still go over the heads of some Hollywood drones, but it fits right at home with European cinema or at the very least indie movies in terms of presentation and narrative. This was good, but certainly different than his more experimental works which are the norm for the late director’s portfolio. Some of Kiarostami’s stylistic chops are still there like long takes, alternating close-up shots in the driving scenes (definitely a callback to Taste of Cherry, but not as frequent), and 360 camera shots, but this was still a change of pace from the typical works. This definitely got a higher budget than the other films I’ve seen from him and could definitely hold it’s own against higher-budgeted indie films as well as mainstream drama movies. The Tuscan scenery was beautiful and there was good shot composition with the camera work in it’s unpretentious usage there. The acting between the main characters was great. I would’ve never guessed it was William Shimell’s first acting role, but I guess he would already have experience being an opera singer. Just don’t expect any singing from him in the movie if you do follow the opera scene (you would be more highbrow than I am and I cover highbrow movies here). He had the right balance of seriousness, dry humor, and restrained passion in this film. Juliette Binoche also impressed me. Her being able to speak three languages well was amazing. She sounds Italian when she speaks the language and she could almost pass as American when she speaks English even though Binoche is directly from France. Besides her polyglot prowess, she also nailed the right amount of being manipulative, coy, obsessed, and even sensual to the James character. I could definitely see the chemistry of them working together for this particular film. In addition to the cinematography and acting, there was depth in this story. Given the romantic elements, I was cautious about it, but the situation was better and certainly not a stupid rom-com. There was a big plot twist which I didn’t see coming and never expected how it would play out with the ramifications of it. That was a plus.

The art element worked tastefully. Sure, there were some elements of namedropping artists, but it never went overboard or pretentious. I did wonder about the ideology of James and the antique shop owner. James argues that even “original” works are copies of sorts even using the Mona Lisa as an example of a copy. While that certainly was an original painting, he considers it a copy because it was a portrait of someone else who was the subject of one of the most famous works of art. The relationship could be a copy in itself with others dealing with similar things. I have mixed feelings about his logic. I get what the James character is trying to say and it’s sort of like that “everything is a remix” quote. For me, I’ll respectfully disagree. People are certainly influenced by outside sources which I certainly won’t deny (I agree when it comes to my recording and fiction work). However, people can easily do unique things and create fully original works with the right circumstances. A lot of you know about my stance on this issue especially since I’ve praised certain movies and anime with fully unique content as well as covering multiple cases of plagiarism when it comes to certain mainstream movies and one documentary that literally involved musical plagiarism (cough The Lion’s Share cough). I hope he’s not excusing people who intentionally copy and steal without giving credit, but that would’ve been something to bring up. There was some fascinating philosophical aspects to this film even if I didn’t agree with everything. I’ll let The Ongoing Concept eloquently explain this with this little experimental metalcore song.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tUFaZB0gaNE

Certified Copy isn’t a perfect copy though. I thought the subplot with Julien felt dropped even if he’s mentioned from time to time. I could deal with the ending with it not being some major part of closure (the French influence is strong in this one), but the aspect of James not remembering everything in one place would’ve made more sense if there was amnesia or something else where it would be believable even if it was a cop-out. I won’t get into spoilers because this ties into a major spoiler with the plot twist. The woman had her own issues, but there were aspects that were more unsettling in hindsight. She came off as stalker-ish with driving James around aimlessly for a while. Imagine if the genders were reversed and see how creepy it would invoke Lifetime movie vibes. Even in the context of the movie, it still felt very awkward at best and creepy at worst. There was also some information about James that I wanted to know about. I assume he had an art background given the book he talked about in the beginning, but was he ever an artist himself or is he some art historian? Besides his book tour or presumably about his art background, why else would he visit Italy all the way from his native England? I won’t bring up the plot twist as to why there’s a connection, but while it was unexpected, parts of it were so convoluted as to how the characters know each other outside of James’s books. There were also stretches of the movie that got boring for me. I don’t if it’s my bias against romantic movies, but there were elements that felt like nothing happened even with the dialogue. Yes, it’s a dialogue heavy movie which I don’t mind on principle, but some of it felt meaningless to me. While Certified Copy is way more straightforward compared to other Kiarostami works, the quality didn’t need to be sacrificed for something people outside of the arthouse world would watch.

This was a decent movie, but I wouldn’t call it his best from what I’ve seen so far. There were great things like the acting, filming, and some of the themes presented did make me think. The art aspects never felt like they were patting themselves on the back with the references. Unfortunately, some parts bored me and parts of the plot felt contrived to me. While romantic stories aren’t my thing, I certainly didn’t hate Certified Copy and I certainly believe it’s better than what a ton of mainstream studios have been pumping out for ages.

Adjustable Point System:
Add 1-2 points if you’re an Abbas Kiarostami fan.
Add 1 point if you like art to be a part of your stories.
Subtract 1-2 points if you like more wacky comedies in your romance.
Subtract 1-3 points if you need typical narratives in your story.

Pros:
-Excellent acting from the main characters
-Great videography
-Has depth and thought with the story and themes

Cons:
-Gets boring at times
-The plotting can be convoluted despite the realistic story
-Binoche’s character is harsher if one really thinks about it

Final Score: 7/10 points

Content Warning: Certified Copy would be a medium PG-13 if this got an official rating. The female lead character uses two cases of strong profanity and goes into a church to change her bra (she even shows it to James to prove she was telling the truth even though you don’t see her get changed). During the big argument scene at the restaurant James calls out the woman for falling asleep at the wheel and there’s more disasterous implications especially given who all was in the car during that story. There’s nudity with various art pieces that involve naked female breasts in a painting and one statue has male genitalia.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos and videos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Certified Copy is property of The Criteria Collection. The Blu-Ray cover is from Amazon and is property of The Criterion Collection.

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