Saturday, April 16, 2011

Certified Copy. (2011) Abbas Kiarostami

Hauntingly beautiful with devastating dialogue, Kiarostami's first film shot far from his original home in Iran is so vibrant and full of life -- its foils, its struggles, its yearnings -- that it needs to be seen more than once to fully digest everything it launches at the viewer. It's THE ONE the film buff waits for as he wades through hundreds to finally arrive here. It's THE ONE film buffs will talk about years from now, and average moviegoers won't have seen.

It was seen by many at Cannes last year, and it was there that Juliette Binoche, amidst applause and mumbled groans at the predictability of it all, took home the Best Actress award for her role, the latest in an endless amount of roles the committed star was born to play. She carries the film like it will live or die on her shoulders, her every facial gesture as amazing as always, and though I've said it before I'll gladly say it again: she has taken her talents to an amazing new level. To see Binoche in practically any film is to see the Best of the Best, and as the years go on she ages perfectly with time. With time, she simply ascends.

IMDB reports that her character in the film is named Elle, but I don't know where they got that. It's not in the film I saw. For the purposes of Kiarostami's original idea for Certified Copy, I'll simply call her "She."

We find She with her skateboarder-looking teenager at a book signing in Tuscany. The esteemed author is British middle-aged James Miller (William Shimell, carried in the film by La Binoche) who has authored "Certified Copy," a book about artifice and art. As the two take a jaunt around the outskirts of Tuscany, the film begins to model the ideas of the book in its majestic cinematography, in the locations the two choose to visit, and in the dialogue and interaction between the characters themselves, whose relationship is completely transformed (think: the shifts in perspective of Persona, but replacing the lesbian tendencies with marriage struggles). She and James discuss life, art, artifice, outright fraud, aging, parenthood, problems and the frustrations they immediately have with one another. They discuss these things like they're going to fall in love or punch each other at any moment. It's as if they've known each other for years, caught up in romance and intolerance, and as such the film feels like a more original, more masterful Before Sunrise or a Tuscany-replacing-Tokyo Lost in Translation. The dialogue and chemistry between She and James is of the highest calibre you will find in a film. Binoche can give you eight emotions in eleven seconds, every single one of them tearing a hole in your heart.

Kiarostami is the master behind the lens, taking us into mirrors, windshields, alleyways and marriage ceremonies. He shifts the film's perspective as our persectives on the two leads shift. There's a playful sense that we're being tormented by an illusion, a reflection, or a glance in the mirror at ourselves. Every shot in the film is poetry, a walk through Tuscany aiding all the beauty found here.

As they continue their walk and as they talk they shed layers, most notably demonstrated in the removal of Binoche's bra in a church bathroom. I know that last thought looks a little weird when you read it -- it is as tasteful and perfect a metaphor as anything in Haneke's Code Unknown. (Which is yet another incredible film rendering the capabilities of Binoche's codes.) There's a shift in the way She begins looking at him, and a shift in the way we look at her. She is more than a walk around Tuscany. The role she's now taken is fully engaging.

The film ends with church bells ringing, an interesting choice for an Iranian filmmaker set free of the constraints of Iran. There's also a final choice that is perhaps left open to interpretation, but most will interpret as full tragedy. It is easily one of the most gripping finales you will see on a screen this year, and yet no words are spoken, a decision is made, and that's it. The bells ring out through the credits.

I've seen the ending twice, both times with small audiences, and I was amazed that no one could get up to leave the theater. They sat through the entire credits sequence, which is not in English, bells continuing to ring out, as if they'd just witnessed an honest, raw, devastating choice, like a couple's split that has left a child whiplashed, wounded by their delusions, their (in)sincerity about themselves, and the nature of greed and how it affects all parties in a Union.

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