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Blu-ray Review: Certified Copy – The Criterion Collection

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Certified Copy is a 2010 film by Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. Starring Juliette Binoche and William Shimell, the film won the Best Actress award and was nominated for the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.

The Movie

James Miller has just released a book entitled Copie Conforme, about our perceptions on art versus copies of art. Is the genuine article really any more or less powerful on our emotions than a reproduction of the original? What if you thought for years that you had been viewing an original and then found out later it was a copy? Miller begins discussing some of these issues from his book at a reading in a small town in Italy.

We quickly transition over to an unnamed woman who is at the reading and then must leave with her son. However, she meets up with Mr. Miller later and has agreed to be his guide for the day – to show him around the Italian countryside – until his train leaves later that night. The two proceed to spend the afternoon together, visiting different points of interest in the region. But it’s what happens during their time together that is the crux of the story. They begin by chatting fairly amicably, but little by little the discussions become more personal, pointed, and sometimes antagonistic. At the start of their journey they are behaving as author and guide, but later begin acting as husband and wife.

The pair might be acting the part. Or they might have been husband and wife all along and it’s just not obivous at first; we’re not really sure. Their discussions – and arguments – get more specific, and they either reveal or create a longer history between them, and lament how they have grown distant over time.

The unknown relationship of the couple is either a mystery or a trick, but either way the film keeps relating it back to art. Is their relationship the real thing, or is it a mere copy of the real thing? Throughout their journey, the duo visit and argue about different works of art. And through the afternoon they keep running into couples at different stages of their relationship – some newlyweds and some more elderly. Their interaction with and differing opinions on the merits of these works of art or the genuine happiness of the couples highlights their different and differing approaches to love and relationship.

They very well could be archetypes of man and woman, standing in for how the effects of time can alter relationships. Or they could be an actual specific couple, simply experiencing what so many have before them. But it’s the not knowing – of their authenticity as well as their history – that creates something that works much deeper than just a drama of fading love.

Video/Audio

Criterion deliver an impressive transfer with Certified Copy. Shot digitally on a Red One camera, the film transitions seamlessly and beautifully over to Blu-ray. Detail is rich and clear, and the colors of the locations really stand out. The film has a very natural look and lighting, eschewing a heavy-handed contrast approach, which suits the travelogue-meets-confession feel of the story. There are no instances of artifacts or noise to report, just a rich and pleasing image.

The audio is as strong as it needs to be, although given that it’s almost exclusively dialogue-driven, there aren’t many scenes that test the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. A few of the outside scenes benefit from ambient sound separation, but overall this is a straight-up “talkie”, and it sounds as clean and dynamic as it should.

The Report

Also included in the bonus section is Kiarostami’s second feature film, The Report, from 1977. The notes from the disc mention:

This extremely rare film, director Abbas Kiarostami’s second feature, was encoded from the only surviving element that we have been able to find: an old analog video master made from a subtitled theatrical print that was damaged from heavy use. According to Kiarostami, the original negative was destroyed during the Iranian Revolution.

The film is sparse – there is no soundtrack at all – and also bleak, but offers an interesting look at middle-class life in Iran prior to the revolution. The story focuses on a finance agent with the government and his deteriorating relationship with his wife. There’s a universality to their problems – nothing is too specific to late-1970s Iran other than a bout of inflation – and the story carries similar tones to Certified Copy, in that both couples are dealing with a growing estrangement from each other. This version is much more straightforward, almost documentary in style, and shows how it plays out in day-to-day life, as opposed to just in discussion.

Bonus Material

In addition to The Report, there are a couple of other very generous supplemental items included on the disc. “Abbas Kiarostami” (HD, 16:02) is an interview with the director on his career, and specifically Certified Copy. Kiarostami goes so far as to offer his own interpretation of the relationship between the two leads, but concedes that it’s still meant to be open-ended. There are also some brief mentions of The Report, but it would have been nice to have had a little more information on it as well.

“Let’s See ‘Copia Conforme'” (HD, 52:04) is a very comprehensive look at the making of the film, and includes behind-the-scenes footage, as well as extensive interviews with the actors and crew. Much of it focuses on Juliette Binoche, as the female character, “She”, was created with her in mind. Finally, there is a theatrical trailer (HD, 2:14), as well as a booklet containing an essay on the film by critic Godfrey Cheshire.

Conclusion

Certified Copy is an engrossing, if disjointed, experience. The ambiguous relationship between the two main characters can seem manic at points, unless you disconnect a bit and view it instead as a condensed metaphor for all relationships that deteriorate over time, and trying to recapture new love. But Binoche in particular delivers a commanding and mesmerizing performance, and Shimell holds his own quite well. It’s a picture that makes a deeper impression in retrospect than it does on first viewing, and merits repeat visits. Criterion’s treatment is typically impressive, and packed with top-shelf extras. A recommended and unique drama.

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About David R Perry