‘Certified Copy’ on Criterion Channel and Sundance Now

Juliette Binoche and William Shimell star in Abbas Kiarostami's first European production

The Certified Copy (2010) of Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami’s first European production refers to artworks—Why do we value a reproduction less than an original and what does authenticity even mean?—but resonates just as effectively with the art of filmmaking and its relationship to reproduction and recreation. “It’s our perception that gives it value,” to quote a debate in the film, and Kiarostami plays with our perceptions in playful and provocative ways.

Kiarostami’s first film made outside of Iran is a truly cosmopolitan affair: a goddess of a French leading lady (Juliette Binoche), a British opera singer (William Shimell) as his leading man, an Italian location and crew and a meandering conversation that slips between English, French and Italian. Binoche’s antiques dealer and single mother (she’s never called by name in the film and is identified as “Elle” in the credits, which in French means “she”) arranges a kind of date with the assured, unflappable author, driving him through the alleys of her small town (the river of brick and sky rolling across her windshield is both a sublime image and gorgeous metaphor for the gulf between the two) through the countryside to a nearby village to view an “original copy” as they debate the meaning of authenticity. As she spars and flirts with the charming but distant author over an afternoon in a lovely rural Italian village, Kiarostami shifts the ground from under us.

Imagine a cinematic equivalent of a Picasso cubist portrait, but instead of showing multiple perspectives of an object in an image, it presents experiences from different periods in a life in a single narrative. This first date segues into a longtime marriage and the philosophical arguments become long-standing personal issues built up over years of marriage. The breathtaking tectonic shift is all the more impressive by the subtlety and slyness of the transition, played out in long takes and the easy rhythms Kiarostami’s style of heightened naturalism. What could have been a neat trick or a modernist exercise is given resonance by the rich pageant of experience onscreen – a parade of hopeful young newlyweds and stooped old married couples continue their life story in both directions by proxy – and by the vibrant and fluid emotional life churning in Binoche’s performance.

Beautiful and painful and mysterious and strangely real, this is no copy of life as we view, certified or not, but it is alive and profound and authentic.

Presented with many of the supplements from the Criterion special edition disc (covered in more detail below the trailer), including the bonus feature “The Report,” a behind-the-scenes documentary, and a director interview.

Add to Criterion Channel watchlist or watch it on Sundance Now

Also on DVD and Blu-ray in deluxe Criterion editions.
Certified Copy (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
Certified Copy (Criterion Collection) [DVD]

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The film is beautifully mastered for both Blu-ray and DVD editions from Criterion. Both feature the rare 1977 Kairostami film The Report, his second feature, mastered the only surviving print (which is in poor shape), the well-made 52-minute Italian documentary “Let’s See Certified Copy,” and a new 16-minute interview with Abbas Kiarostami, conducted in Paris in 2012 for this release. The accompanying 22-page booklet features an insightful essay by film critic Godfrey Cheshire.

About Sean Axmaker

Sean Axmaker is a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, The Seattle Weekly, Keyframe, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org). He was a film critic for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for nine years and a longtime home video columnist for IMDb and MSN Movies, and his work has appeared in Indiewire, Today.com, The Stranger, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, Filmfax, Psychotronic Video, and "The Scarecrow Video Guide." You can find links to all of this and more on his shamelessly self-promoting blog at http://www.seanax.com/

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