Certified Copy

The Reel Deal


A Reel Deal Film Review

Film Insight by Tyler Malone

March 2011

Reel Rating: 5 out of 5


Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy is more of a poem than a story. Not that it doesn’t have a plot–it certainly does (maybe even multiple?)–but it is not something you can easily pinpoint or explain away. Some of the critics and reviewers have seen it as a puzzle needing to be pieced out, as though if you could just understand the twist, it’d all come together like an M. Night Shyamalan movie. This is no Shyamalan movie. Why not? Well, first of all: IT IS AMAZING! And Shyamalan hasn’t had an amazing movie in years (if he ever did?). Secondly, the film, as I’ve said, isn’t a puzzle, it is a poem. In poetry everything doesn’t have to have a 1 to 1 correspondence to reality. And there needn’t be a direct answer to the problems a poem posits. This film, like the best poetry, merely exists in its uncertainties, mysteries and doubts, not trying to present one philosophical world view for you to agree with or disagree with, but merely presenting possibilities and facilitating a dialogue.

Few films can achieve that sense of cinematic poesy. Like I say though, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a plot. The film revolves around the relationship between James Miller (William Shimell) and a mysterious woman (Juliette Binoche) who may be an interested fan of Miller’s or who may actually already know him quite well. Miller has written a book called Certified Copy, which is about how copies are not worthless, but are themselves as worthy of our praise and interest as originals are. The movie begins with him at a speaking engagement explaining his theories on the subject. In a way, he argues, every reproduction is itself a kind of original, and every original is a kind of reproduction–he basically deconstructs that original/copy binary. This is the major theme the film deals with both on a surface level and on much deeper levels, and not just from an art criticism perspective: as James Miller says of his philosophy, “I believe this approach is not only valid in art.” And yet later, he admits that even he sometimes can’t make himself believe in praxis what he puts down in theory. The film undulates between two poles–one represented by Miller and the other by the woman–as it also simultaneously undulates between two (if not more) possible plots. Which philosophy does the film side with? And which plot is the “real” plot? Where does reality lie?

Perhaps before delving into a question like “Where does reality lie?” it is best to think of philosopher Jean Baudrillard and his idea of simulacra for a moment. He posits that in today’s world there is no such thing as reality. The world is now composed merely of references without direct referents. The film’s main character James Miller skirts this concept when he says in the opening scene when describing his philosophy on art (and life): “There are no fixed points of reference, no immutable truths to fall back on.” I’m not saying the film necessary follows this philosophy espoused by Baudrillard in his seminal text Simulacra and Simulation, but thinking about Baudrillard does move us closer to what Abbas Kiarostami is trying to do. He composes, in cinematic poetry, a story of a couple who may or may not be a whole mess of things.

So where does reality lie? Well, in that question lies its own answer. The word lie, taking on two meanings, has us asking two different questions. On the one hand the question asks: “Where is reality?”  On the other hand the question asks: “Where is reality lying?” (as in: “not telling the truth”). So the question we ask in watching Certified Copy–“Where does reality lie?”–is itself proposing reality as both a thing whose place/position can be located (and therefore situated in reality) and also as a thing whose truth may not be entirely true (and therefore not situated in reality). We can look at it this way: Reality itself is both an original and a copy–as the film is also.

Though the film has been mostly compared with other movies with somewhat similar plots like Before Sunrise / Before Sunset (because it is composed mostly of a lengthy dialogue between a couple in a beautiful locale) or Journey to Italy (because on one level it may be about the dissolution of a relationship), it actually has more in common with the surreal works of Luis Buñuel–and I think Kiarostami is intentionally pushing that connection. He does so by including in the role of an important minor character the co-writer of many of Buñuel’s films: writer/actor Jean-Claude Carrière. In Buñuel/Carrière films, such as The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, we may find the greatest “original” of Certified Copy. In a film like The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, just like in Certified Copy, there isn’t an adequate explanation for everything that happens because the characters and events represent a surreality rather than a reality. Or should I say: surreality as reality (instead of “rather than”)? The characters and situations exist on various levels and move in sometimes seemingly opposing directions. But though there are many “originals” which this film could be said to “copy”–Before Sunrise / Before Sunset, Journey to Italy and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie being only a few which seem to be referenced intentionally–it is also a wholly “original” film itself. We could say: As an original, this film is itself a reproduction, and as a reproduction, it is entirely original. This is a film that will stand the test of time, and one that I promise you, by the end of this year, will stand near the top of my list of favorite films of 2011. Since they’re usually saved for Oscar Countdown Season (October through December), it is a rare occurrence for a film this wonderful to come out this early in the year. I suggest you copy me and seize the chance to see such a wonderful film this Spring!  Trust me, you wont regret it…

Certified Copy is a film written and directed by Abbas Kiarostami. It stars Juliette Binoche, William Shimell and Jean-Claude Carrière. In Tuscany to promote his latest book, a middle-aged British writer meets a French woman who leads him to the village of Lucignano. While there, a chance question reveals something deeper.


IMDb: Certified Copy

Written by Tyler Malone

Photography Courtesy of IFC Films

Design by Jillian Mercado

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