Monday, March 14, 2011

Parents' Night Out: 'Certified Copy' Review

In November, at AFI Fest in Hollywood, I saw one of the most confounding yet thought-provoking films about the nature of romance and relationships -- "Certified Copy," starring Juliette Binoche and William Shimell.

This film, from Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, is now in theaters, and I wanted to offer it as an option for movie night when parents get a rare moment away from the kiddos. Be prepared, though, to discuss it during the entire car ride home. It's that mysterious -- or frustrating, depending on your take.

As described, "Certified Copy" (or "The Certified Copy," as I've seen it in local movie listings) is the story of a gallery owner (Binoche) living in Tuscany who attends a lecture by English writer James Miller (Shimell) about the nature of authenticity in art. He notes in his lecture that copies themselves have real value because they lead to the originals. He also believes that this idea doesn't occur solely within the world of art.

But that's just the beginning.

Seemingly, the two have never met. In fact, Miller wanders into the French woman's gallery (her name is listed only as "she" or "elle"), and she practically falls all over herself to oblige him in a trip to the countryside, where she wants to show him some amazing works of art.

It is during this voyage, however, that their relationship seems to take a very subtle yet defining turn. They fall into dialogue that sounds more intimate than simply strangers. Do they actually know each other? Are they playing some kind of game?

When they visit a small cafe, a woman mistakes them for a long-married couple, and Binoche's character does not correct her. She instead indulges the woman, who makes pointed comments about how her "husband" hasn't even bothered to learn her language (French) while she speaks his (English) in addition to Italian.

"He's not into languages," she replies. "He's not into anything."

Later on, as the couple is walking through another village, they encounter a real married couple, and this husband gives Miller some advice on love.

"I think, all that she wants from you is that you walk beside her and lay your hand on her shoulder," says the older man to Miller. "That's all she's longing for. But for her, it's vital."

The mystery of this gorgeous film is exploring where the truth lies. While Shimell as Miller has few if any really emotional scenes, Binoche moves from elated to dejected in the blink of an eye. She wonders about her partner and if he is connected to her in the same way that she is to him. They appear (key word, appear) to be going through the course of an entire relationship -- courtship, commitment, marriage, rejection, reunion -- over the course of only a few hours.

While the emotions were beautifully portrayed, by Binoche especially, I wondered if "Certified Copy" was itself a certified copy of an authentic relationship or even of an authentic film. At its best, it seemed to prod and provoke discussion about the ways in which we relate to those closest to us. At its worst, it seemed like an emotional exercise, a game of relationship vignettes that offered only a glimpse into -- or perhaps a wink at -- the real nature of love.

Certified Copy; 106 minutes; French, English, Italian languages

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