By Robert W. Butler | McClatchy News Service
Are they strangers or a couple?
A British author visiting northern Italy to promote his latest book spends an afternoon touring a small town with a French woman who owns an antique shop.
The woman, Elle, is played by the quietly luminous Juliette Binoche; the man, James, by operatic tenor William Shimell (who doesn’t so much as hum a tune here).
Initially it looks as if this offbeat effort from the famed Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami ( A Taste of Cherry, The White Balloon, Through the Olive Leaves
) is going to follow the format familiar from Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise
and Before Sunset
: Two strangers spend several hours talking and walking through a picturesque setting.
Maybe they’ll fall in love. Maybe not. They spend a lot of time discussing his book — which is about notions of real art and fake art — and whether the authenticity of a painting or object really matters as long as it provides aesthetic pleasure.
This is more than idle chitchat. For as their day progresses Elle and James are mistaken for a couple by the people they meet, and soon they have wordlessly agreed to continue that charade. They even start arguing like a married couple, resurrecting old disputes and hurts.
But Kiarostami complicates things by suggesting that, far from being new acquaintances, Elle and James really are a married couple who get off on pretending they just met. Could this be some sort of sexual role-playing, a way of spicing up a relationship that’s starting to go stale?
So delicate is the writing and the work by Binoche and Shimell that by film’s end audiences will be divided — are these strangers pretending to be a couple, or a couple pretending to be strangers? Certified Copy
is, of course, a talkfest, but one ameliorated by the gorgeous visuals. Kiarostami often relies on long, uninterrupted shots, and his compositions frequently feature reflections (in a window pane, a mirror, a framed picture). This one practically screams “foreign film” ... and that’s a good thing.
Cast: Juliette Binoche, William Shimell.
Director/screenwriter: Abbas Kiarostami.
Producers: Angelo Barbagallo, Charles Gillibert, Marin Karmitz, Nathaniel Karmitz, Abbas Kiarostami.
An IFC Films release. Running time: 106 minutes. Some French and Italian with subtitles. Playing in Miami-Dade only: Cosford.