Certified Copy is a fraud as a film. It is intellectually stimulating but ultimately empty. I recommend it for cinephiles but only as an academic exercise, not as a potentially profound experience.
Despite being written and directed by one of international cinema's true masters -- Iranian Abbas Kiarostami of Taste of Cherry fame -- Certified Copy reads like an existential joke on art, cinema and the audience watching.
Because it was written and directed by a master, however, there are passages that are glorious to behold as pure cinema. Not least because Kiarostami, in his European debut, cast French superstar Juliette Binoche.
Still beautiful, always engaging, unpredictably feral behind her veneer of civility, Binoche is sublime. She won the best actress prize at Cannes 2010 for this film and no one was surprised. Binoche could be merely sipping coffee or fussing with her son at a speaking engagement or addressing art theory or sliding into a mysterious relationship with a putative stranger in a bickering dance that may, or may not, be a decertified copy of a real marriage.
And there's the rub. The plot (using that term loosely) puts Binoche in Italy, where she runs a Tuscany antique shop. The setting leads to dialogue in French, Italian and English. Binoche becomes intrigued by an English author with a new book called Certified Copy (or Copie Conforme in the French title of the film). He will be speaking in public. She attends, leaving early with her antsy son but first passing along a note to the author so he can find her.
So he does, for no reason apparent. At the antique store, they re-engage the topic of his lecture: Whether copies of art treasures are just as valuable as the originals.
For the rest of the film, Kiarostami plays with the notion that the same principle may apply to relationships, such as a marriage, or even to a film. Is Certified Copy not really an original work of art? Is acting in a film just the act of creating a copy? And is it all pointless?
The problem with this premise, and the reason it turns into blah-blah-blah, is that the narrative focus is on the so-called relationship between our heroine and the author. They end up in a car on a trip through the countryside, stopping in the lovely medieval village of Lucignano, host to honeymooners and lovers.
The two may or may not actually have had a relationship in the past. They may or may not actually be having one now. Frankly, Scarlett, you may not actually give a damn. And I don't.
One problem is that Kiarostami, who was so brilliant in choosing Binoche, blew it with his male lead. By all accounts, William Shimell is a fine opera singer. He is a dismal first-time actor. I would not certify him even as a copy of a copy. In half of his scenes, his eyes seems vacant. In the other half, he is so earnest as to be annoying. His speaking voice begins to grate. Bad choice.
In the end, Certified Copy meanders to nowhere and does not do it quickly. With or without Abbas Kiarostami involved, I will take a real film over a copy any day.