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Friday, March 18, 2011
The Play's The Thing, But Is It Live Or Memorex?
William Shimell as James and Juliette Binoche as Elle in Abbas Kiarostami's "Certified Copy". IFC Films
by Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com FOLLOW
Friday, March 18, 2011
Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami makes an impressive English-language debut with "Certified Copy", a romantic drama starring Juliette Binoche, excellent as Elle, an art curator who may or may not know a whit about a brittle, self-absorbed author named James (William Shimell), who blows into Tuscany on a whirlwind book tour of his best-selling book "Copie Conforme".
Elle chaperones James to the town of Lucignano. James says he has to be back on the train by nine on the same day. James's book "Copie Conforme" is about art and sculptures that may be real but are in fact not-so real, and about how those fake works have been adopted as real and championed as such by those who are renowned and respected. "Certified Copy" adopts the same meme, unfolding as an evolving sculpture of an interaction between two people who may be in a relationship or just playing the part. Some relationships exist solely for the sake of keeping up appearances, and in this piece of clever theater Mr. Kiarostami lets the actors speak volumes.
"Certified Copy" is about a relationship of language. The film's greatest strength lies in its use of language as a device exploited to sublime perfection in numerous ways: as body language, literary language and vocal language. The two main characters seemingly pretend to be something that they are not, yet are really people they seem not to be. Does that make sense? I don't believe that Mr. Kiarostami, who made the wonderful film "Taste Of Cherry" among others, intentionally tries to confound the audience. Rather, Mr. Kiarostami depicts the theater of human drama and comedy and uses language to illustrate complication, understanding and understatement.
In some ways a Shakespearean play, "Certified Copy" plays as a manual of social manners and relationship etiquette. Cynicism punctuates the often polite and later increasingly raw exchanges between Elle and James. Some of the cynicism has rubbed off on Elle's son (Adrian Moore).
The events that play out in this quiet drama are subtle and beautiful. We slowly notice, and feel, that we are being drawn into a stimulating, philosophical conversation piece that shines, provokes and intrigues us. Each moment of this mind dance between the sexes is rich and alive. You feel a new sensation during each scene of the interplay between Ms. Binoche, who won best actress at Cannes last year for this role, and Mr. Shimell, who is also effective here as James. I was riveted, delighted and fascinated by what flickered before me on screen, never distracted for a single moment.
Many films use the frustrated, narcissistic author character to clichéd effect, but here the director employs James as a man evading himself, a man who has been less of a success in life than his lofty books sales lead him to believe. Elle is surrounded by the art she works with but the decorations adorning her galleries may well represent an emptiness that she feels in her life.
The second half of "Certified Copy" becomes an extraordinary acting piece for Ms. Binoche, with the writing by Mr. Kiarostami sharp as a tack. The way he films "Certified Copy", with several long unbroken takes with a fixed camera, works well for the material he has written, letting you absorb the spaces of these characters and the environments they play in. Thought-provoking, intelligent and charmingly adult, "Certified Copy" is the real deal.
"Certified Copy" is not rated by the Motion Picture Association Of America. The film is in English, French and Italian language with English language subtitles. The film's running time is one hour and 46 minutes.
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