Thursday, September 23, 2010

NYFF 2010: Certified Copy

To one-off Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy as a mere riff (w/ a twist) on either Viaggio in Italia and/or Before Sunset (which I heard several of my fellow critics spout out after the press screening of the film at Walter Reade) is to sell this brilliantly subversive film way way way short.  Granted, one of course can see the similarities to both films - the ever-lurking camera winding through cobbled streets following an awkward couple, the idea of a possibly failing marriage and a certain desperation written on their faces - but what Kiarostami does here is take these same desperate couples (real or imagined as they may be) and places them inside - smack dab in the proverbial middle - of an elaborately manipulative puzzle.  A puzzle that we never find out the solution to, but a puzzle that we do not need a solution to - possibly a puzzle there is no solution to.  In other words, Kiarostami is taking us for another ride - and what a ride it is.
Juliette Binoche, in the press notes, talks about going to visit the director to find out about the film he wanted to make with her.  She explains how she listened to this 45 minute story from Kiarostami about a series of events which happened to him, essentially, the story of Certified Copy.  When it was all over, he asked her if she believed him.  She said yes.  Kiarostami admitted to it all being a lie and Binoche burst out in laughter.  This is just the kind of twisted fairytale we get in Certified Copy.  Much like the elaborate tomfoolery in the Iranian auteur's 1990 film, Close-Up, the story here is a garbled melange of truth and falsity.  

A sort of meta-manipulation (and these are the best kinds - Joaquin Phoenix and Casey Affleck pull off something along those lines in the recently released I'm Still Here, though on a much simpler, and less artistic scale) Certified Copy follows Elle (Binoche, as sublime as ever) and James (Opera singer William Shimmel making his surprisingly in depth acting debut) through a Tuscan village as the play an intricately manicured game of emotional cat and mouse with each other.  Mistaken by a local cafe owner as a married couple, Elle and James (supposedly meeting for the first time) begin to act out the parts they are mistakenly given.  As the game goes further and further, the mind games get sharper and deeper until we no longer know what is real and what is make-believe.  Elle and James perhaps no longer know either.

What exactly is going on here?  Are these just two strangers playing head games with each other?  Are they a real couple, playing games from the very start?  Does any answer really matter?  Is it not all about the game?  It is not the solution (remember, there may not be one) but the puzzle that matters and the way the director and his two actors play around with such a thing.  What they are playing around with is the idea of reality - what is the original, what is a copy, does it even matter which is which (as long as you believe the copy is the original, does it make it any less real?).  Like I said, Kiarostami is messing with our heads again.  It's great to have him back.

Finally making his way back to narrative filmmaking (after a decade experimenting in DV projects of varying degrees of success - one of these, Ten, is actually one of the director's greatest works) Kiarostami could not have asked for a more triumphant manner of return.  Fellow compatriot Glenn Kenny, over at his illustrious blog Some Came Running, said this as he closed out his piece on Certified Copy: "Seeing this and Uncle Boonmee the same afternoon put me, and a bunch of my fellow NYFF press screening attendees, into a cinephilic swoon we'll be luxuriating in for some time."  As one of those fellow NYFF press screening attendees, I must wholeheartedly agree.  And swoon I did.
note: IFC has purchased the US rights to Certified Copy and will release the film via both on demand and in theaters.  The tentative date for such a release (if one is to believe IMDb) is March 2011 (a surefire contender for my Best of 2011 list - how's that for planning ahead!?).  At that time I will post a full review of the film.  Or perhaps I will just copy and paste this same one (after all, a copy is as good as the original, right?). 

1 comment:

Mike Lippert said...

To one off this movie is exactly what I did to the script when it came through my inbox last December. Pretentious noodling, as all of Abbas' movies feel to me. Good review though. I may still check it out anyone if for nothing more than curiousity of how it was translated fromt the page.