Is a copy of art valuable on its own, simply something that leads to the original, or is it even valuable at all? If a great work of art were lost, how would we value the copies of it? Is the original being copied just its own copy of reality? Is reality simply a copy of another reality? Does anything have value other than what we choose to ascribe to it? Are we not all copies of our ancestors? Is a relationship anything but a copy of emotions we have learned we should experience and actions we feel we have to imitate? These are a few of the questions legendary Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami‘s Certified Copy attempts to answer through the story of a romance in an idyllic Italian setting.
The film begins as a French antiques dealer (Juliette Binoche in the role that won her the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival and made her the first actress to complete the European Triple Crown of Best Actress Awards) visits a talk by an English writer (famed opera singer William Shimell in his film debut) about his book Copie Conforme, which details his thoughts on the value of copies of art as something that can bring one to the original. The two soon find themselves spending the day together through a series of locations where they discuss the book’s thesis about copies and their lives; the attraction between the two is clear. Then, (and I advise you stop reading here if you have not seen the film) after a café owner mistakes them for a married couple, their dynamic changes for the rest of the film from new acquaintances to that of a married couple, and the topics of conversation transition from broad philosophies about art to the lives they live and the problems they have caused each other.
Though there is a beauty to the whole film, as the Tuscan setting provides wonderful artwork and natural features and the dialogue forces us to consider their beauty in a whole new way, the moments after the switch to being a married couple are where the film’s true beauty lies. Just as with the surrounding features in the first half, the dialogue continues to mutate the way everything on screen is to be perceived. It’s a relationship in fast forward, and takes us immediately from the joys and nervousness of meeting someone to the frustrations and deeper understandings brought by spending a significant amount of time with someone.
Is the first half of the film an act, with two married people pretending to meet each other for the first time? Or is the second half a performance by two people who just met, acting as if they are married? Which half was the copy and which was the reality? Does this make one less valuable than the other? The conversations the two had about the value of art copies would seem to be the key to unlocking the film’s mysteries, but the two characters’ diverging opinions offer a wide range of potential interpretations that extend to all experiences in life.
Certified Copy was Abbas Kiarostami’s first film to be produced and filmed outside of Iran, and thus the commentary on the value of copies may very well be an examination of the value of an Iranian director using an Italian setting with French and English performers, making something that follows more closely in the tradition of European cinema than Iranian. As one of his few films that used a professional crew in front of and behind the camera, it also represents more of a copy of life than the observance style found in his other works. Perhaps it is simply a view of the changing nature of perceptions of love and life. Regardless of the intended meaning, Certified Copy is an interesting and contemplative evaluation of the purpose and value of art, and an achingly beautiful deconstruction of a marriage.