Certified Copy is the first Western film by acclaimed Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami,a filmmaker perhaps best known for his 1997 work Taste of Cherry, which won top prize at the Cannes Film Festival and was later remade — sort of — as the terrific American film Goodbye Solo. The very definition of international cinema, this is a French film by an Iranian director, set in Italy, starring French and English stars, spoken in a mix of French, English, and Italian.
The ostensibly simple premise is this: Juliette Binoche, who won Best Actress at Cannes last year for her performance here, is Elle, an antiques dealer who lives in Tuscany with her young son. Elle initiates an encounter with a visiting English art critic, James (played by opera singer William Shimell) after a local reading of his new book, also called Certified Copy. The pair end up taking a day trip to a smaller village.
The film’s deeply pleasurable, two-personwalking-and-talking (and driving)structure and picturesque European setting is unmistakably reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset, but Certified Copy is a bit more mysterious. Midway through, while stopping at a coffee shop, James steps out to make a phone call, and Elle plays along with the shop proprietor, who mistakes them for a married couple. When James returns, Elle confesses to allowing the misunderstanding and James — reluctantly at first — plays along too, a game that continues throughout the film. Soon, you find yourself wondering: Is this couple creating a fiction or emerging from one?
“The copy itself has worth in that it leads us to the original,” James asserts during his opening-scene reading, explaining the thrust of his art-crit book. And this may be a clue of sorts about what’s happening here. But, ultimately, Certified Copy isn’t a puzzle to be solved. It operates on dream logic reminiscent of such Euro cinema icons as Luis Bunuel and Michelangelo Antonioni.
Something of an “art film” apotheosis, Certified Copy is certainly not for all tastes, but, then again, neither is The Hangover II or Thor. What it is is arguably the first great film to grace local screens this year: immaculately composed and structured, with a formal sense that borders on the musical; a powerful showcase for Binoche, one of the leading actors of her generation; a film rich with conversation — romantic but prickly; and an ineffable experience likely to sneak up on you unexpectedly days after you see it.Opens Friday, June 10th, at Ridgeway Four.