Such a dramatic statement likely brings to mind the ambitious sort of science fiction that encourages viewers to question everything in front of them. Certified Copy, on the other hand, follows two seemingly complete strangers on the course of a day trip through a sleepy village in Tuscany. One (William Shimell) is a British writer promoting his latest book, a musing
Certified Copy is initially propelled by its sense of verisimilitude. It feels as if writer/director Abbas Kiarostami has crafted a meticulous reproduction of two very real people and a very real Italian village he knows intimately well. There's nothing overwhelmingly cinematic about the film at the outset. Certified Copy opens with a conference on the writer's promotional tour, one that's littered with awkward pauses, brief and not entirely convincing statements about artistic reproductions, and the sort of trite self-deprecation that the small audience can barely be bothered to give a polite chuckle. Hardly anyone in the audience on-screen is particularly engaged, least of all Juliette Binoche's nameless character. Her silent gestures to her hopelessly bored son are more fascinating than the writer's droning prattle, and it's quickly established that she has no real respect or admiration for anything this man has to say in print, though she's intrigued by him just the same.
With an opening such as that, Certified Copy doesn't encourage viewers to immediately embrace it. Relying instead on diagetic music, there is no overbearing score to guide the audience's emotions. The film is constructed around long, lingering takes rather than falling into a nimble rhythm of cuts. There is no Meg Ryans/Tom Hanks meet-cute to be had. Rather than lob out aggressively witty, unmistakeably scripted dialogue, the conversations between Binoche and Shimell's characters are infused with the convincing awkwardness of two people first getting to know one other. Each tries to quietly charm the other. There's a certain level of faux-intellectual posturing in an attempt to impress. The effort shows. They step on the punchlines of each other's jokes, and their conversations are peppered with disagreement.
Some may read that and cringe, though I find this approach to be fascinating. I'm able to immediately relate to these two characters, regardless of the substantial differences in their ages -- their experiences -- and my own. One of the points Certified Copy sets out to make is that a reproduction can be just as beautiful and just as emotionally resonant as the original, perhaps even wielding greater pleasures still, and that carries through in the construction of the film. Its power stems from how unmistakeably real it is on every level. I can't help but feel as if I know these two people and am walking alongside them down the streets of this Italian village. I also find it intriguing that the bond that forms between them isn't over-romanticized. There's discomfort. They squabble and bicker. They allow themselves to get distracted by their phones. Though perhaps those tempermental bursts are more than what I'd expect to see between two prospective lovers first getting to know one another, that
As the writer stomps off to take a phone call, the elderly woman who runs a small café notes what a good husband this man so clearly is. Binoche's character doesn't correct her mistake. Instead, Certified Copy pivots on its heel and resculpts itself into something entirely unexpected. The two play along with the idea that they've been married for fifteen years, but what was perhaps meant as a joke soon consumes their reality. They don't step outside of these roles throughout the rest of their journey. He is a copy of the spouse from her failed marriage; she presumably is a copy of his. They see past potential and possible futures reflected in those around them, and others see the same in them. Through the imperfect reproductions they have each become, they're able to better evaluate where things went wrong, on their ends as well as on those of lovers past. They can look at the pleasures and headaches behind them through wiser, more experienced eyes. It's astonishing how deftly Certified Copy makes this transition from grounded reality into a fantasy of sorts, and Kiarostami leaves the precise nature of it all open to interpretation.
One comment I'd often seen about Certified Copy is that it takes multiple viewings to be fully appreciated. I'm sure there's an element of truth in that, and I can certainly see why some would turn away from it. This isn't a film that takes great pains to be embraced. Its pace is deliberate and reflective. The audience is at times kept at arm's length. Personally, I found Certified Copy to be wholly fascinating from its very first frame. Its artful compositions are achingly beautiful, and the richly atmospheric sound design and extended takes ensure that this is a film into which viewers can be completely immersed. Certified Copy also benefits greatly from the two performers in the lead. William Shimell, an opera singer making his debut as a film actor, has created an intriguing character. If the choice were up to his writer, it's uncertain if he would prefer to be liked or to be respected. The writer is guarded, hiding his emotions behind a heavy-handedly intellectual façade and a cold, detached demeanour. He very much has his charms, but he's more brains than heart. Juliette Binoche's nameless character, on the other hand, wears her emotions on her sleeve. Whereas the writer is almost always in control, she's a collection of jittery nerves...a pendulum swinging between boundless excitement and crushing disappointment. Even with as familiar a face as Binoche's so obviously is, the way in which she lets go throughout Certified Copy makes me feel as if I'm seeing her for the first time. It's an exceptional performance.
Love. Art. Time. Perception. Perspective. Certified Copy is a thoughtful, visually entrancing, and endlessly engaging exploration as to what all of that means, exactly, and for viewers seeking out something challenging and unconventional, this Blu-ray disc comes recommended with the greatest enthusiasm. Highly Recommended.
Though Abbas Kiarostami is hardly a stranger to digital photography, Certified Copy marks his first experience with the RED One. Though the image does exhibit some of the eccentricities of the RED -- lower contrast and a slight tinge of softness -- this high definition presentation generally looks outstanding. Certified Copy is crisp and richly detailed, benefitting further from a subdued yet striking palette. Its digital origins have not been masked or processed away, and that adds a level of immediacy that complements Certified Copy remarkably well. Criterion's skillful authoring sidesteps any additional filtering, edge enhancement artifacts, or missteps in the compression. As expected, this release of Certified Copy leaves little room for complaint.
Certified Copy arrives on a BD-50 disc, and the feature film itself essentially has a layer to itself. The presentation is lightly letterboxed to preserve Certified Copy's theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and the video has been encoded with AVC.
Certified Copy nimbly leaps from one language to the next, as its dialogue alternates between English, French, and Italian. The expectation may be that an arthouse film propelled by its performances and entrancing visuals will be aurally subdued, but I assure you that is not at all the case here. Certified Copy's 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is extraordinary, taking full advantage of all six channels at its disposal. The sound design is wonderfully atmospheric, so lush, organic, and alive that viewers can't help but feel as if they too are strolling through the streets of Lucignano. This Tuscan village isn't an interchangeable backdrop; it's very much an integral character in its own right, and the masterfully-crafted sound design infuses that character with a life and vivacity all its own. Effects seamlessly pan from speaker to speaker, and Certified Copy delivers an impressively robust sense of directionality. Every last element in the mix is dazzlingly clean and clear, and the film's dialogue never struggles for placement. Certified Copy is one of those rare releases that wholly deserves a perfect score for its audio, and I hope anyone reading this review is able to experience the film on a proper surround sound setup.
Though traditional English subtitles are enabled by default, a second subtitle stream is captioned for the deaf and hard of hearing.
The booklet tucked inside the case of Certified Copy is almost entirely devoted to a lengthy essay by Godfrey Cheshire.
The Final Word
Certified Copy is precisely the sort of film I associate with the Criterion Collection: challenging, unconventional, and masterfully crafted. This study of passion, art, and perspective demands to be discussed afterwards. As enthusiastic as I am about the film after a single viewing, I'm certain that intensity will only be heightened as I experience it again in the coming months. Certified Copy is an extraordinary work, not just a deeply rewarding discovery on Blu-ray but one that cries out to be watched repeatedly. Highly Recommended.