Certified Copy 2010 (Original French Title: Copie conforme)
A writer is delivering a lecture on his book about art, in the Tuscan province of Arezzo. He is late and the camera is fixed on the podium.The writer James(William Shimell) arrives and begins to deliver an interesting talk about how copies of art may be as valuable as the original themselves, and the original works of art, the Mona Lisa for example is merely a copy of the original human model that Da Vinci used.But as he is talking the camera shifts 180 degrees to take in the action in the front row.An attractive middle-aged woman arrives with a young boy.She (Juliette Binoche) looks interested in the talk and appears charmed by the speaker but is constantly distracted by her son.Frustrated she walks out with him to a fast-food joint where the boy quizzes her about her interest in the writer.This he does mercilessly, putting her in a spot. She tries her best to answer but he clearly has the upper hand.This is the opening scene of the master Iranian auteur Abbas Kiarostami’s very intriguing and entertaining film Certified copy.
Mr Kiarostami stages this scene with extraordinary brilliance, with tact and humor and an incredibly keen eye for detail and dialogue.In the following scene we see James arrive at the shop of the woman and they decide to go out for a drive.Its quite clear that she does not like his book and his ideas but is attracted to his fame and stature and gets him to sign a few copies of his book, to gift her friends. As they set out on a drive they indulge in intellectual banter, about the nature of art and his theory about certified copies. James is fitted out with his writer persona, complete with dry wit and charm, not to forget his silken baritone voice.She switches effortlessly between starry-eyed fan and scathing critic, becoming a frustrated mom from time to time to garner some sympathy. Binoche also switches between speaking English, French and Italian with equal élan in a magnificent performance. Essentially they are both acting all along and yet in the middle of all the acting they can’t help being man and woman.
In the process James becomes a certified copy himself, of the original absent husband of the woman.That they are perceived to be married and they behave like a couple makes him as real a husband as we want him to be. Their act of playing along with the onlookers is an extension of the acting that goes on in real life.So what does Mr Kiarostami want to convey by playing with us thus? Perhaps the way the boy plays with his mother and the protagonists play with each other is the point.If childlike innocence is what we cherish and we consider children to be the purest form of life on earth then why do we run away from pursuing our instinct for seeking out a life of pleasure and fun?
It is interesting to note the point at which they begin to appear married.It happens more than halfway into the film when they enter a trattoria and he is annoyed by the wine which is corked.They have a hearty quarrel.As he steps out to take a call, the ancient waitress watching them tells Binoche that James appears to be a good husband and delivers what is essentially a summary of the conventional role of man.Perhaps she has seen too many young women try to redefine the roles and fail.From this point everything changes, we see Binoche stepping into the restroom to wear exactly the kind of costume jewelry she made fun of earlier and lipstick.He takes notice of her makeup but does not acknowledge it.
Driving is one of Kiarostami’s signature motifs and here we see James and Binoche driving, the scenery reflecting on the glass, partially eclipsing their faces.This visual dual layer complements the earlier scene where we had overlaid audio fighting for our attention when Binoche is being distracted by her son, while James delivers his lecture.Both strategies create distractions in the conventional sense and also force us to make a choice, as what we want to focus on,and in the process become active viewers.
While cinema has established itself as an art form its cannot be collected in the convectional sense like a painting or a sculpture.In that sense every print of a film is as good as the original and so is every DVD or Blue Ray of it.I have a fridge magnet ( an exception to my indifference towards these touristy collectables), which is a miniature version of Johannes Vermeer’s The Little Street. Vermeer is my favorite painter and this is my favorite among his 34 paintings which are all masterpieces.As I watched Certified Copy I became aware that perhaps my humble fridge magnet is nothing but a certified copy for me, insofar as it gives me some derivative pleasure of looking at the original hanging in Amsterdam’s Rijksmeuseum. It effectively kindles memories of many wonderful moments spent gazing at that masterpiece.
If I had seen this film when I was say 15, I may have been fixated on Binoche’s breasts, she goes into a church to take off her bra at one point of time and comes out to present James with the evidence.At 25 I would have certainly tried to decode the film and figure out the the mystery of their rapidly changing relationship. How they progressively become more like a married couple and if the initial scene was perhaps a charade of two lovers meeting after a long time?But at 36 I saw the film as an oblique commentary on art and this film using itself to illustrate its point about certified copies and foremost as an exploration of the role of man and woman and the difference in their fundamental nature.I am quite sure that when I revisit this film at 45 it will be a new richer experience. After all Mr Kiarostami, all of 70 years old, has taken his own time to reach this place.I will also take mine to fully appreciate this masterpiece.
Categories: World Cinema