Like those earlier titles, the act of consuming ‘Certified Copy’ requires a willingness to engage in a game of intellectual hide-and-seek. In the past, Kiarostami challenged us to think about off-camera space – what is happening outside the frame that could influence what’s on the screen. Here, he offers a decontextualised fragment of a relationship which only begins to make sense if we consider the details outside the story’s timeframe. Juliette Binoche stars as a ruffled, slightly manic antique dealer, opposite English opera baritone William Shimell as an arrogant cultural commentator on a brief Italian stopover to deliver a lecture on the value of copies in art. Over the course of a single afternoon, they meet, drive into the Tuscan countryside, go for lunch, wander around a gallery and discuss the nuances of art, love, family and possible discrepancies in Shimell’s thesis. When a waitress naturally assumes the pair to be romantically entangled, Kiarostami takes that cue to have his characters mutate into what appears to be a bickering wedded couple. The game is set: is this love or just a copy?
There’s a pleasingly self-aware quality to the dialogue in the film, as if Kiarostami is anticipating the inevitable auteurist deconstructions of its meticulous structure and composition. In a telling line, Shimell admits, ‘I only wrote the book to convince myself of my own ideas,’ as if this rambling tale is organically working itself out as it goes along. Binoche and Shimell are superb: she expressive, impulsive and emotional; he haughty, dogmatic yet vulnerable. If there’s a problem with the film, it’s the idea that two people would instinctively choose to immerse themselves in unbroken role play.
It makes the ambiguities ring a little false and dampens the easy naturalism to which the film obviously aspires. But if Kiarostami’s fingerprints are occasionally evident on the screen, the pair’s off-kilter chemistry and the unquestionable artistry of the filmmaking prevents this from descending into an exercise in cold, technical pyrotechnics. And in true Kiarostami style, the final shot is an absolute doozy.