The above clip from Certified Copy tells you next to nothing about the film, which makes it marginally better than the trailer, which tells you nothing at all. I can't entirely blame the studio: Certified Copy is a difficult film to categorize and to market. What it is not is an action thriller; what it is, is a dialogue-heavy film of ideas, from Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. The film which Certified Copy most reminded me of was My Dinner with Andre, the 1981 film from Louis Malle in which two characters do little more than engage in an extended -- and to some, including me: an entirely absorbing -- conversation over dinner in a New York restaurant.
Most of Certified Copy unfolds literally in real time over the course of a sunny afternoon in Tuscany, in a series of extended takes and closeups which often frame the protagonists (Juliette Binoche, and opera singer William Shimell in what is essentially his film debut) looking directly into the camera (in one extended closeup, featured in the above-mentioned trailer, we become voyeurs as we watch from the mirror's vantage point while Binoche puts on her lipstick).
Binoche plays a French expatriate living in Tuscany with her young son; Shimell plays a rumpled British academic, an author in town to launch the Italian edition of his new book "Certified Copy," a work of art theory in which he argues that there is essentially no difference between an original and a reproduction.
Binoche's character takes issue with this position, and arranges a rendezvous with Shimell's character which he accepts. Over the course of the afternoon we eavesdrop on their discussion, a conversation which gradually and seductively shifts from the world of art into the realm of the deeply personal. We realize that our initial assumptions about their relationship -- author and fan -- are suspect. Could they in fact be a married couple who are playing an elaborate game with each other? How are we to connect this theme -- original vs copy -- to the events being played out on screen?
The dialogue, while at times awkward, is otherwise terrific, prolonging the story's essential ambiguity as we search backwards in our minds for clues which might help to unravel the mystery. Binoche's performance is first rate, and while Shimell can't quite hold his own with her, he is entirely believable as someone more comfortable in the abstract world than the world of emotion. All in all my favorite film of the ones I saw at this year's VIFF.