Cool for Copycats: Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy

Aaron: So, Alex, let’s talk about Abbas Kiarostami’s latest film Certified Copy. I have to admit that it really doesn’t feel to me like a typical Kiarostami film, because it’s very heavy on dialogue and very light on visual style and beauty (most of it is shot inside with cuts back and forth as a couple are talking), but it’s a really interesting one. I think it’s a clever trick from a writing point of view that the film we watch in the first act is very different from the one in the second two acts. Midway through the picture, the story changes dramatically.

I’m fascinated by the idea that this couple has a strained relationship, which manifests itself by them pretending to be strangers with one another, even when there are no witnesses around. I can’t stop wondering if they are actually somehow a pair of strangers who are playing that they are married rather than the inverse (which would help to explain problematic characters like the son).

In any event, I’m interested in the idea of copies (title to lock in theme) and the deconstructed and formalist elements of the film as a copy for real life. The characters here are living their lives, but jump into a copy-life where they don’t know one another (or they don’t know one another and then go into a copy-life where they do). They go to a town where they were apparently married, almost a copy of their wedding day/night. They speak to each other in French or English, meaning two different things (she’ll speak to him in French and he’ll reply in English). Where is the reality? Where is the ground? It’s really interesting.

Alex: Why do you always get to be blue? Blue’s my lucky color. Sapphire is my birthstone. If I were a professional golfer I’d wear blue and black on Sundays. And I’d win majors and have endorsements and make lots of money. (And I can only wish I’d be in sex-addiction therapy.)

Oh, and yeah, we saw Certified Copy together. Yeah, I’d like to see it a second time and look at it through the just the lens you describe above. When exactly are they performing? And for whom? Early in the film Juliette asks William to inscribe half a dozen copies of his book so she can give them as gifts. And when she asks him to do one for her sister she has to spell the sister’s name for him. At this point we think they’re barely acquainted and that she’s starstruck by this famous author. But, it turns out, they’ve been married for 15 years. So, what, this dude doesn’t know how to spell his sister-in-law’s name?

Well, actually, it’s possible that he doesn’t. For reasons that are revealed as the movie goes along. But every time the couple lapses into this “performance” mode, it’s for some purpose. It’s a shift of the power dynamic. In retrospect the asking of the autographs is a nasty, perverse attack on a man who’s spent more time nurturing his ego than his son.

I was moved by the climactic scene of this movie — the visit to their wedding-night hotel room — when Juliette finally makes the plea the whole movie has been building to. It’s one word, really, and it’s anything but a performance. It’s a devastating appeal to his humanity (or whatever’s left of it).

And I agree, I might not recognize this as a Kiarostami movie. The shot-reverse shot scenes are interesting because each character is isolated in his/her frame. We’re not looking over anybody’s shoulder — it’s as if the camera is placed on the table between them and at eye level, Ozu-style.

When they’re in motion, however, they’re usually in a two-shot, so it’s as if we’re moving with them. It reminds me of Dogfight or Before Sunrise — is there a name for the genre of movies in which a man and a woman do a lot of walking and talking?

Again I come back to the scene in the car when she asks him to inscribe the books. That scene alternates between the two modes, but also in the wider shot the buildings around the car reflect in the windshield in a way that frames, and separates, each of them.

This movie makes me want to write a paper for a film class.

Must also say that both actors — Juliette Binoche and William Shimell — are terrific, and we must keep them in mind a year from now when we’re composing our 2011 Ira ballots.

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About Aaron & Alex

We're two highly opinionated, movie-going, liberal, cynical, (single) New York Jews who like to bitch about movies.
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