‘Certified Copy’ is faking it

Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami’s new film misses the mark on too many points.

JULIETTE BINOCHE 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever,” says a character in the mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap. Sadly, Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy spends most of its running time on the wrong side of that line. It’s a talky, pretentious movie, what used to be called an art-house film. While arthouse films have become less common as the movie industry focuses more on the bottom line, the fact is there are still bad ones and good ones, and this is a very bad one.
It’s more important than ever for people who care about serious, highquality movies to celebrate the good ones, but it is pointless to heap praise on those that are derivative and lifeless.
Kiarostami is an Iranian filmmaker who chose to stay in Iran after the Islamic revolution. He has managed to have a stellar career without running afoul of the authorities by making movies that are allegories about various subjects, including life, death and poverty. What he doesn’t make are movies about anything remotely connected to Iranian politics. While I would never dictate what a filmmaker should make movies about, the influence of the Islamic government on daily life in Iran is a pretty big elephant to ignore in any room. But his films feature a lot of landscapes, adorable big-eyed children and slow pacing – three elements that have charmed film festival juries all over the world.
His films are banned in his homeland, but he is allowed to keep working and to travel abroad. Some of his films, particularly the ones that portray urban life in Teheran, including Ten, have a certain power, but most are full of pseudoprofundity.
At a press conference at Cannes to promote Certified Copy last May, he did take a stand when his colleague and former assistant, director Jafar Panahi (along with other directors), was jailed in Iran for making his opposition to the government known. Kiarostami did call for Panahi’s release. However, even at that moment he toed the line, saying, “I may not be an advocate of Jafar Panahi’s radical and sensational methods, but I do know that the cause for his plight is not a result of choice but an inevitable [compulsion].” Those “radical and sensational methods” consisted of publicly praising opposition leader Mir Houssein Mossavi.
Why bring all this up in a review of Kiarostami’s first film set outside Iran? Because he sets up Certified Copy as a film about authenticity and artifice, it is important to establish who this filmmaker really is. Knowing his background makes the movie even more annoying than it would be otherwise.
Certified Copy takes place in Tuscany and stars Juliette Binoche as a Frenchwoman who sells antiques and has a young teenage son. She goes to a lecture given by James Miller (played byWilliam Shimell, a wellknown British opera singer), who has written a book about the value of copies. They meet later and engage in banal banter, as they both become increasingly more agitated and annoyed with each other. At first, we take it for granted that she is just a high-minded groupie who has never met him before, but at a certain moment a café owner assumes they are a married couple, and they begin to bicker as if they actually are. But are they? Is she recovering from a psychotic break? Did a scene he observed by chance on the street between her and her son inspire him to write the book? “There’s nothing simple about being simple,” he intones at one point. That may be true. But there’s also nothing complicated about being inane, which this movie is.
This is the kind of movie that people who are generally quite honest will not admit to having been bored and/or confused by, because they think to admire a work so pretentious makes them seem virtuous and intelligent. This film was shown at Cannes, and Binoche won the Best Actress Award there for what is the weakest and most mannered performance I have ever seen her give. She sits there, smiling winsomely, tears welling in her dark eyes, wisps of hair encircling her face and tries desperately – and unsuccessfully – to breathe life into this moribund film.
Certified Copy asks the question “Can this marriage/clever puzzle/deranged fantasy/ironic commentary be saved?” Chances are, few will truly be interested in the answer.