'Certified Copy': A meditation on the nature of art and marriage

A version of this review appeared Oct. 15, 2010, as part of the Philadelphia Film Festival coverage.

 Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami's first feature set outside his homeland, Certified Copy, offers a deceptively easygoing, multilingual discourse on the nature of art and the nature of marriage (and the nature of movie narratives, for that matter). That this purposefully twisting exercise takes place amid the sun-burnished cypresses and towns of Tuscany - where ancient statuary is as commonplace as pasta and wine - only makes this playfully enigmatic meditation the more pleasing.

William Shimell, an opera baritone making his screen acting debut, is James Miller, a British author who has dropped into Florence to read excerpts from his art history book, Certified Copy - provocatively subtitled Forget the Real Thing, Just Get a Good Copy. His thesis: that a fake, a forgery, is just as valid as the original. If it elicits the same response from viewers, it's just as meaningful. An enthusiastic fan, a Frenchwoman (Juliette Binoche) with a precocious son, invites James to her antiques shop after the reading.

And then, the Englishman and the engaging expat are off for a drive in the country and a roller-coaster afternoon looking at art (and forgeries of art); looking at a parade of happy brides and grooms; and looking at each other across the table of a cafe (where a pivotal exchange occurs between Binoche's Elle and the proprietress), and then later in a deserted restaurant.

It would be irresponsible to describe what develops between James and Elle any further - and it will be impossible not to wonder about it after Kiarostami lets his end credits roll. What is a marriage? What's the difference between something original and something fake, or calculated, or modeled on the real thing?

And what is the real thing, and how does time alter our perceptions?

Shamble around and mull.

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/


Certified Copy (Copie conforme)

Directed by Abbas Kiarostami. With William Shimell, Jean-Claude Carrière, Juliette Binoche, Agathe Natanson. Distributed by Artificial Eye Film Co. Ltd.

Running time: 1 hours, 46 minutes.

Parent's guide: Unrated ().