Certified Copy

Reviewed by John Stakes

Sometimes in order to appreciate the meaning, purpose or significance of a film it is helpful or even necessary first to understand the director and his motives. So many so-called “art-house” movies for example suffer from an obvious abstruseness which defies instant understanding or explanation and leaves the viewer struggling to interpret events in any meaningful way. And some such films can be too clever by half to generate proper engagement.

Some might say that last Sunday’s film by 70 years’ old and much admired Tehran born director Abbas Kiarostami was a case in point. Were the French female antiques dealer (the unnamed “she”) and the coolly elegant book writer James Miller complete strangers meeting for the first time? Or were they a jaded married couple trying to reinvigorate their marriage by pretending to be strangers? Or were they actors role-playing strangers or a married couple? And did we care a jot who they were supposed
to be?

Kiarostami’s style is defined by his allegorical storytelling, deliberate ambiguity, mixing simplicity with complexity and fiction with documentary. Dialogue tends towards the poetic. This director believes that we can never get close to the truth except by lying. So the first lesson is not to trust what appears on screen as much of it is smoke and mirrors.

What appears to be happening at the start is the meeting up in the heart of Tuscany of the nameless woman (Juliette Binoche) and Mr Miller (opera singer and first time actor William Shimell . When they are later taken to be a married couple by a café owner they assume the mantle of husband and wife for whom marriage has lost most of its significance. They begin bickering inconsequentially; their dialogue eloquent but unworldly, and moving between French, English and Italian.

Kiarostami’s background as a photographer, painter and illustrator dominated his approach as he concentrated on style and composition in the timeless Tuscan setting leaving us to try to make sense of the intentional ambiguity. Perhaps we were meant to observe rather than to identify with the couple. Perhaps their role was to reflect the age-old conundrum of the failure of the sexes to communicate – that men are from Mars and women inhabit Venus. The interpretational possibilities seemed endless.

This reviewer’s understanding (or lack of it?) as to what was going on was that Kiarostrami was showing that in art artifice is no less valuable or truthful than the original which itself is often a copy or interpretation of reality as in a painting. To illustrate his point we were shown a famous Italian painting of a woman now no less celebrated for being a fake than it had been for the centuries it had been believed to be an original.

The same approach can be applied to life. As Kiarostami himself put it, there is more to real life than mere existence. So he presented us with two people who, when playing a couple, were clearly role-playing the parts of actors playing a married couple now separated. So, although we were far removed from the reality of the proved to be a very accomplished support for Binoche and far more complex than his detached coolly elegant Miller first appeared.

A veteran now of over forty films this director’s work is admired around the world and in some quarters revered. However the Iranian government has steadfastly refused to allow any of his films to be screened there despite the fact that all bar this one were filmed on home territory.

True to form for this director this film divided the Keswick audience. This reviewer found it an almost unique piece of film-making. It was constantly intriguing and, in its own highly personal way, as honest a depiction of the transient and ever-changing nature of human understanding and relationships as to be found in many a socially realistic film. The Tuscan setting not merely added a visual beauty but its timelessness served to define the nature and purpose of this extraordinary film, which was as strikingly different and as relevant as the best of Michael Haneke.