Friday, May 21, 2010

Film Review: "Copie Conforme (Certified Copy)"

“Certified Copy”
A film review by Jordan Overstreet

Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Producer(s): MK2 Productions
Screenplay: Abbas Kiarostami
Main players: Juliette Binoche and William Shimell

If Meryl Street is America’s greatest working actress, then Juliette Binoche is France’s. Binoche’s performance in Abbas Kiarostami’s “Copie Conforme” (Certified Copy), which premiered Tuesday at the Cannes Film Festival, has secured her place on the podium for the title.

While a certain vagueness is required when re-telling the plot of the film so that each audience member has the ability to draw his or her own conclusions, “Certified Copy” the relationships between man and woman through a few hours that “She” (Binoche) and James Miller, a British writer, (William Shimell) spend in a Tuscan village. When we first met our leading man and lady, James is giving a lecture on his newest book entitled, Certified Copy, in which he argues that copy of an original creation can be just as valuable as the original (ie., a copy of the Mona Lisa can be just as beautiful as the original); moreover, it is only our knowledge that what we are viewing is a copy that changes our perception of the value of a given item. “She,” a single mother, can only listen to the lecture for a few minutes before her son’s hunger takes priority and she must depart; however, “She” leaves her number for James, hoping for a date with the writer. The following day, James and “She” embark on a journey to a neighboring town, where they are mistaken for a married couple in a coffee shop. This accident of mistaken identity spawns a game of “husband and wife,” leaving the spectator to decide if the relationship between James and “She” is real or merely a copy of a marriage.

Ms. Binoche has never been better. Kiarostami’s script allows Binoche to showcase her talent as the dialogue changes from English to French, and even to Italian; each change brings bouts of comedy, drama, and farce, allowing Binoche to showcase her range. In their car ride over to their destination, Binoche’s comedic drive is at an all time high as she shares an anecdote with James about her sister Marie, who is married to a simple man that stutters. “She” detests her sister’s husband noting that he can’t even say her name correctly (he calls her “M-M-M-M-Marie”); while “She” finds this cacophonous, she asserts that Marie finds his speech impediment harmonious; he sings Maries’ name. James, siding with Marie, reveres this simple man, yet “She” cannot understand his love for Marie--she finds it to be a copy. However, James asserts that this dissonance, “M-M-M-M-Marie,” is in fact an attribute of their unique relationship, thus making it real. Marie’s marriage will become “She’s” measuring stick for her relationship with James.

Once in the town, the two go into a coffee shop, during which James disappears to take a phone call and an aging waitress believes “She” and James to be a married couple. “She” does not correct this observation, and when James returns he too plays along with this idea. However, as the film wears on, this game of “husband and wife” teeters on the line between reality and fantasy. Like Edward Albee’s Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Ms. Binoche’s “She” is so dedicated to the game--this fifteen year marriage between herself and James--that she leads the audience to believe what they are seeing on screen is, in fact, a true marriage. However, Mr. Shimell’s “James” brings the audience back to reality. Shimell, who is originally trained in the operatic arts as a baritone, makes his first screen appearance in the film. Knowing this, his shortcomings in the role can be forgiven; he’s a newbie. Nonetheless, Shimell’s “James” is no George and is less dedicated to the “husband and wife” game than “She.” He does not remember to look at “She;” he has forgotten where they spent their wedding night. Because of this, Shimell’s “James” pulls the audience in the other direction and leads them to believe that what they are seeing on screen is, in fact, a copy that James and “She” have created of a marriage.

Nevertheless, I believe that what was presented on screen by Binoche and Shimell was actually just a copy. I base my assessment on Binoche’s final lines to Shimell, during which she calls him “J-J-J-J-James,” as if begging for a real commitment from him. Whether it is merely a game or the real deal, what exists between Binoche and Shimell is powerfully deep bond. There is definitely more to their relationship than what meets the eye. I encourage others to visit this film; allow it to provide the catalyst to analyze one’s own relationship; is it real or is it a certified copy?

1 comment:

  1. Juliette Binoche is an extraordinary actress, it was time she was given credit for her natural gift of acting with "no acting". She is just a "tout écran" by herself. Thank you for the review. I want to watch the film in french! Do you remeber her in "Bleu"?