Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy (Copie Conforme) (2010) comes off a little like an intellectual’s idea of a romantic comedy, but it’s no less enjoyable for that. Indeed, despite a strand of obtuseness that will doubtless irritate some viewers, it’s a relatively accessible offering from the Iranian auteur, who, with recent meta-cinematic outings such as 10 on Ten (2004) and Shirin (2009), has sadly seemed in danger of disappearing up his own rectum. Certified Copy tethers its philosophical speculations to a narrative, even as it unpicks the stability of its premise throughout. The film focuses on a few hours spent between two characters in Italy: a British author (William Shimmell), who’s publicising his new book about originality in art, and a French antique shop owner (Juliette Binoche) who drives him into the Tuscan hills. As the day progresses, it becomes apparent that these two protagonists may not be strangers to each other, and may in fact have a complex shared history.
Binoche has described Certified Copy as “a hymn to love,” and Rosselini's Journey to Italy (1954) and Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise (1995) are among the film's most obvious intertexts. In some ways, though, its more of a hymn to Binoche herself: Kiarostami clearly relishes filming her and she responds with a subtle, varied and thoroughly compelling performance. Shimmell, an opera singer whose first film role this is, also acquits himself well. The nuances that both actors find in their roles help to carry the viewer through some rather hoary clichés about What Men and Women Want that appear in Kiarostami’s screenplay, and turn the film into a memorable duet. At times the pontificating on art, on the value of originals over copies, grows irksome, but then there are startling moments in which a scene suddenly becomes flooded with intense emotion. Needless to say, it’s a gorgeous film to look at, too, with the unobtrusively filmed Tuscan landscapes competing with the actors’ faces for expressiveness, and Kiarostami’s assured sense of composition and pace creating a seductive flow. Not a film for everyone, then, but Certified Copy casts its own singular spell. It’s enigmatic and obvious, exasperating and beguiling, heavy-handed and understated, witty and poignant, all at once.