Certified Copy (12A)

Written and directed by Abbas Kiraostami
Screening at FACT from 10th September 2010

Reviewed by Tamhas Woods

Iranian director Kiarostami (10 on Ten, The Wind Will Carry Us) has undoubtedly created something of a subtle masterpiece where the strengths - although not immediately apparent - eventually come to the fore and allay any initial doubts about the film's accessibility. The film itself is rich in metaphors and ideas, with the saying ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ never more accurately applied. Indeed it would have been absurd to create more than two main characters, with Juliette Binoche (The English Patient, Trois Couleurs) and film debutant William Shimell collaborating artfully in an excellent performance as their respective characters embark on an emotional journey.

Throughout, viewers are able to interpret the apparent themes by their own deductions, and undoubtedly, this is a great part of the narrative's unique nature. The subsequent rapport built with the audience borders on the didactic, which can be assumed to mean that Kiarostami is conveying to the audience the idea of life as a journey, and the breaking of social norms and conventions (such as forming relationships, marriage and breeding) is a choice towards which some humans can be inclined either through nature or given circumstances.

Initially, this is established through alternating between shots in which the camera remains stationary for extended periods of time. The opening shot is of a desk with a microphone and a water bottle, the combination of items often associated with lecturers and auditors. This association is justified with the next shot of people sitting in a row of chairs, waiting expectantly for the speaker. After the arrival of James Miller, the speaker who is one of the two main characters, the initially smooth flowing speech becomes somewhat disordered, with James' phone ringing and the untimely arrival of a young boy (Adrian Moore - Friendship!, Lecture 21), son of the other main character - an unnamed woman.

Kiarostami's persistence with this visual style is very reminiscent of the original ‘new wave’ French cinema, comparing favourably to legendary auteurs such as Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, with simplistic yet uncompromising camerawork successfully transferred to a postmodern setting. It is in this instance that Kiarostami asserts from the very first, themes relating to the life process spiralling out of control through choice, luck and fate. The elements of roguishness and hedonism are very much diluted by comparison to the old style of the French new wave, yet the evident self interest of the characters can be seen as selfish or healthy, hence the possibility of open interpretation.

In particular, the woman's struggle between her broken marriage and her child leads to a conflict of values. She becomes increasingly fraught throughout the timescale of the narrative (approximately eight hours), as she eventually loses the battle of wills, succumbing to her feelings and pursuing James as a love interest. Thus, as a mere human, she accepts her natural tendency to rebel and resist society’s expectations of her; given the escalating exchange of emotion as shown by the two co-stars, the aforementioned norms and conventions seemingly border on the oppressive. This setting is somewhat similar to society as represented by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, in which the aforementioned expectations were to be adhered to, lest gossip of a scandal be spread and the convention breaker shamed. It is therefore certainly appropriate to label the film as a dramatic piece with artistic value.

The very meaning of life and even existence of self is also effectively questioned, as the extras and supporting characters become increasingly older - from babies to children playing football, and then from celebrating newlyweds to an elderly couple visiting a building marked ‘Pensione’. This normal, inevitable life process can easily go hand in hand with boredom and predictability, which is the reason for the main characters' unspoken, inward indulgences and desires. Ultimately, Kiarostami's cinematographic genius combines effectively with an evidently succinct and clear understanding of life and human emotion, providing a wholly satisfying and fulfilling viewing experience. To certain extents, the viewers may feel forced to delve into and explore their inner selves, and it is only on very rare occasions that the power of cinema is so truly and comprehensively realised. As such, Certified Copy is well placed to become one of the classic greats from a country almost unrivalled in its film culture.

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