Written and directed by Abbas Kiarostami, Certified Copy, delves into one of the oldest of human forms of communication: conversation. The movie doesn’t have much of a narrative; rather it builds on the slow talks and musings of its two lead characters. The location is the beautiful city of Arezzo, Italy and is filled with the cultural sites and striking Italian landscape. The movie switches between English and Italian frequently, sometimes even French, but much of the characters speak the language known to everyone despite the language: one of love, one of art and one of reminiscence.
Starring Juliette Binoche (The English Patient) and William Shimell in his first role, they are the only two actors that are on the screen. None of the other cast members are given more than a few minutes, despite some enjoyable side characters piping in the movie. But they are there as supplementary characters necessary to interact with the leads, not as part of the story. The movie begins with James Miller (William Shimell) who is in Italy for the release of his book. There is also present Juliette Binoche, her character is never named, waiting to get some copies of the books signed from the author. But she has to cut short as her son is hungry and wants to get something to eat. She leaves her number with one of the associates of the author so that Miller might call her in future. Next day, Miller calls upon her in her antiques shop. It appears that they are meeting for the first time. The awkward first time meets and the unfamiliarity is in the air. They go for a drive in which they discuss several things: art, her sister, art, the simplicity and complications of life, art, etc. The viewer is not yet ready for anything else than to believe that these two are meeting for the first time.
When the movie meets almost the halfway mark, a surprise is in store. In a little coffee shop, Miller goes outside to attend a phone call and the owner of the coffee shop, an elderly lady, mistakes the two for husband and wife. She (Binoche’s character) doesn’t correct her and they strike up a conversation about perfect marriage and husbands. When he returns, she tells him that the old lady mistook them as married. He smiled and says, “Apparently we make a good couple.” That is the first time I was mystified. From then on now the movie is a great character piece on a marriage in the shambles. It is never made clear whether they are really married or not. But the talks, the tears, everything seems so real that the viewer is engulfed nonetheless.
There is one particular scene I want to talk about: Miller and the woman go to a restaurant. They sit across from each other. Behind Miller, in the garden of the restaurant, a newlywed couple are there celebrating with friends and family. In the restaurant there is a marriage on the rocks. The scene is probably one of the best symbolic moments in movie history. The director through a single scene delivers two concepts which are so closely linked but often overlooked. Beautifully shot and brilliantly written, that is my favorite scene of the movie. Irony is reaping in that scene, in every frame.
Enough can’t be said about the performances of the actors. As a dialogue driven movie of the Before Sunrise, Before Sunset type, the acting was always going to be important. Abbas played a gamble by giving the lead to a non-actor, and it paid off. William Shimell gives a totally fabulous performance. Talking about Juliette Binoche, she was the heart and soul of the movie. She won the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival for this performance and she totally deserved it. In one of the greatest character pieces of recent times, she gives a thoroughly believable and raw performance, full of energy but never spilling over the brim.