Kiarostami takes on Juliette Binoche in Tuscany, and loses none of his edge.
Fans of Abbas Kiarostami may have had reason to feel nervous in the lead up to the release of his latest film, Certified Copy. The Iranian director’s first feature shot in Europe, it is a radical departure from the cinema in which he made his name: festival favourite Juliette Binoche is cast in the place of non-actors; the streets of Teheran or pastoral Iran have made way for beautiful Tuscany; and a distinct narrative is followed throughout. Now, the fears of cinephiles can be allayed: Certified Copy will, if anything, lure a whole new audience to Kiarostami’s world, opening a door to the mastery of one of modern cinema’s greats.
Certified Copy continues Kiarostami’s long-held fascination with blurring the lines between reality and fiction. Binoche plays an antiques dealer (she remains unnamed throughout, further asserting her elusive nature) who manages to convince a noted writer (William Shimell) to embark on a road trip with her. So far so good: Kiarostami’s love of cars and conversation are framed within exquisite long takes, through which verbal sparring and the gorgeous Tuscan countryside are allowed to unfold. However, the narrative soon veers into Kiarostami’s wonderful catchphrase: “we can never get close to the truth except through lying”. In the second half, a conversation Binoche has with an old lady about relationships precipitates a new narrative constructed from a ‘lie’ Binoche told. With clear links to Roberto Rossellini’s masterpiece Voyage to Italy, and an intertextual richness created by the exquisite use of art and poetry, Kiarostami’s film shows the world as being constructed through the disclosing of stories: the conduit for memories, basic human interaction, and ultimately, reality.
In Kiarostami’s cinema, the objective is almost far too elusive to capture, but he’s not really interested in the construction of subjective worlds either. Certified Copy examines the nature of copying and reproduction, as well as the notion that a copy is never as beautiful as the original. But as Kiarostami gestures, can the copy be just as, if not more, beautiful? The ‘marriage disintegration’ between Binoche and Miller is delicately captured in a Tuscan village; the seeming documentary immutability of the surroundings a further contrast to the ‘lies’ being constructed in the narrative. Kiarostami also frequently uses “dual worlds” in his films—whether it’s the documentary and fiction stories of Close-Up, or the use of poetry in The Wind Will Carry Us—and the direct contrasts and links between the two opens up a far more ‘real’ depiction of the characters than a single narrative—or a simple pastoral romance—would have ever achieved. After all, Kiarostami is interested in deconstructing them as people rather than facilitating their relationship. It is through the fabrication of art and the artificiality of the portrait that Kiarostami is able to offer a more nuanced examination of the characters.
In a Cannes Best Actress-winning turn, Binoche is simply superb, with the challenge that faced Kiarostami—having not worked with a professional actor (and star) for decades—rendered moot by what is perhaps her finest performance to date. The actors are given considerable space by the director’s style, and they respond beautifully, despite this being a much harder-edged depiction than is commonly seen in Kiarostami films (that’s not to say, however, that Ten or A Taste of Cherry aren’t also deeply political pieces of work). The relationship between the two leads in particular betrays the lyrical simplicity of Kiarostami’s earthquake survivors in Through the Olive Trees. Instead, the emotions are much more upfront as a result.
Whereas Kiarostami denied the existence of a director in Ten, Certified Copy features a very distinct authorial style. His trademark long takes are unchecked, but it’s through other touches such as direct-to-camera dialogue (the Ozu style of conversation), or 360-degree camera shots, which highlight the artificiality of what we’re witnessing at crucial moments. These techniques also draw us in emotionally. Certified Copy is another truly wonderful film by Kiarostami, one in which the concerns that have underpinned his career for nearly forty years are transplanted into the exquisite Italian landscape. In doing so, he loses nothing in the process.