Sunday, October 12, 2014

167. Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami’s film “Certified Copy” (Copie conforme) (2010) in English/Italian/French languages: Love and marriage and their respective true copies

Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami can be fascinating because of his audacity to toy around with the minds of intelligent, discerning viewers. 

His Shirin was a feature film exclusively capturing the mosaic of varied emotions of several female viewers watching a movie with a narration in Farsi (the language of Iran) about a popular fable/tale of love and valor, without showing Shirin’s viewers what those members of the audience within the film were watching but merely providing the soundtrack of the “watched” film.

The puzzle begins: Who is the woman who can take up a reserved seat
at a book release ceremony

Kiarostami’s  Certified Copy is equally abstract and demanding of its audience but in a different way. Certified Copy proves to be a fascinating work because it is a film with an open ending and a narrative full of ambiguities, while succeeding in retaining the attention of any viewer, who can sense and appreciate a high level of intellectual discourse presented within the film. Despite the physical and thespian allure of Juliette Binoche (presenting one of her most complex and commendable performances that deservedly won her the Best Actress award at the Cannes film festival in 2010), the film a perceptible viewer will soon realize is not about works of art or beauty (which is what the bulk of the film discusses) but merely uses that platform to discuss love between two adults and the institution of marriage which is the result of love. The film presents an extension of Plato’s critical discussions on the Greek terms mimesis (imitation) and contrasting it with diegesis (narrative). The film indirectly asks the viewer what is real love and what is real marriage as opposed to the general perception of love and marriage. Stanley Kubrick toyed with the subject in a different manner in his swansong Eyes Wide Shut (1999). Ingmar Bergman dealt with the subject in a parallel manner in several films, most notably in The Touch (1971).

Kiarostami is unintentionally mimicking Ingmar Bergman, both in style and content. At least this is increasingly evident in the recent Kiarostami phase of filmmaking outside Iran (first Shirin that utilized non-Iranian actors, then Tickets made in Italy, followed by Certified Copy and the latest being Like Someone in Love, made in Japan) all mirroring the interests of the Swedish maestro—and both directors wrote their own screenplays/stories. And like Bergman, Kiarostami’s films increasingly tend to linger on the actors’ faces that communicate emotions beyond spoken words or their other physical activity. And the conversations for directors rarely abate.

Kiarostami uses his favorite visual idea--a moving vehicle;
and cinematographer Luca Bigazzi captures
 the duo (Shimmel and Binoche)
with Italian exteriors in reflection

Certified Copy begins with a book release in Italy by its British author, James Miller (played by William Shimmel, an opera singer of some repute). The book is also titled Certified Copy and discusses the value of copies of art, not unlike the subject of Orson Welles’ delightful F for Fake (1973). The book release is attended by a young mother (Binoche) and her son briefly. Before leaving hurriedly (as her son is hungry), she leaves behind her address for Miller so that he could sign the many copies of his book that she has bought. Throughout the film, the lady’s name is never revealed or spoken.

Miller does respond by visiting her studio populated with copes of art and he obliges the good lady by signing the copies of her book, one of which is for her son addressed by Miller by the first name. And there begins the puzzles for the viewer to ponder over. The son notices that his surname has been left out by Miller. The lady recalls her sister used to stammer and addresses James Miller as “J-J-J-J-James.” Is there a familiarity between the two that has not been revealed? Miller states that he wrote his book after watching a mother and her son in Italy, after the son stopped to admire a statue that was probably a copy “some 15 or 5 years ago.” And the lady played by Binoche seems to be aware of that incident. The viewer is cleverly sucked into a complex puzzle to figure out if the two knew each other in the past and whether the author, Miller, is somehow related to the boy.

Miller is married to someone (similar to the unseen film-within-film in Shirin, and the young man’s past lover in Tickets) the viewer never sees but evidently exists. Third parties viewing the duo traveling in Italy assume Miller and the woman to be married, following which they begin to “act” as if they are married. Perceived actions appear more real than reality. The couple’s individual reactions to newly-weds in churches asking them to join them in their celebrations are markedly different. Miller comments "I didn't mean to sound so cynical, but when I saw all their hopes and dreams in their eyes, I just couldn't support their illusion." Is Miller's real marriage having a downturn as to be considered an illusion?

Do the "married" couple spend the night together?

Church bells ring as if a marriage is taking place (possibly real, possibly “copied” in memory).  The “acting” couple asks for a room at the same small hotel they had apparently stayed ages ago and the lady (Binoche) expects Miller to spend the night with her, when the bell tolls 8 o’clock and Miller has a train to catch in an hour.   A perceptive viewer will recall the lady’s son commenting, “You are trying to fall in love with him.” And that she does by going to the rest room and wearing costume jewelry earrings and trying to look more attractive for Miller, which he does not seem to notice. She, on the other hand, has noticed his change of perfume. Whose is the real love and whose is the certified copy of love?

Shimmel and Binoche: reprising Bergman's techniques?

Kiarostami seems to be toying with real love, perceived/certified copy of love, real marriages, and perceived/certified copy of marriages. The film offers the viewer several options. None is cast in stone.    

Carriere's and Shimmel's respective characters
 discuss the copy of Michelangelo's statue David  in Florence,
a subject discussed ironically by two "married" couples

Somewhere in the middle of the film Kiarostami shows the conversing couple passing by a copy of the statue of David by Michelangelo publicly admired at the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, while the original is in Florence’s Gallery of Fine Arts. And the couple discusses this subject with a tourist (played by Jean-Claude Carriere the co-screenplay writer of so many of maestro Luis Bunuel’s classic films and Peter Brook’s Mahabharata) and his fictional tourist wife. The discussion of the original (diegesis) and the certified copy (mimesis) continues to the end of the film as marriage and love gradually replace works of art in the discussion.

"Costume jewelry is as good as real jewelry" quote from the film 

While there is no sex or nudity in the film, it is quite understandable Certified Copy could not have been made in Iran with that country's prevalent official conservative social attitudes. Having seen all the recent four films made by Kiarostami, Certified Copy proves to be the most cerebral, with his episode in Tickets proving to be the most delectable among the four. In comparison, Like Someone in Love, was not remarkable cinema even though no Kiarostami movie can ever be considered pedestrian.

Certified Copy remains essential viewing for viewers who love good cinema and have a penchant for philosophy and aesthetics.

P.S. Kiarostami’s earlier works Shirin and Tickets and Orson Welles’ F for Fake have been reviewed earlier on this blog.

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