Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Abbas Kiarostami -- out from under Iran's yoke -- graces us with CERTIFIED COPY

For all those who've wondered what kind of movies middle-eastern filmmakers might make, were they not constrained by fundamentalist regimes and values, we've got at least one major answer. Iran's own world-class movie-maker Abbas Kiarostami, with his new CERTIFIED COPY, has produced a film so witty and sophis-ticated, so light on its feet even as it deals with quite weighty topics, that if I did not know the identity of its writer/director, Mr. Kiarostami's would be the last name I'd guess. Certainly there are similarities between his former films and this one: use of close-up, love of faces, interest in how character shapes decision-making. But still: I'd never have imagined.

Filming in Italy and using one of that country's most gifted cinematographers, Luca Bigazzi (Il Divo, The Sicilian Girl),  Kiarostami (shown at left) has achieved a "look" that none of his other movies begins to approach. More than mere look, however, is the unusual content of his film. Imagine for a moment all the freedom, the possibilities that were open to this filmmaker for his first foray out "west." Yet he has chosen to make a quiet, nearly two-handed love story about art and life, originals and copies, ownership and pleasure, men and women, the true and the false. And he does all this via the prolonged conversation between his two lead characters during the first day they spend together, getting to know one another.

The dialog between them is alert and thoughtful, playful and angry, confused and concerned. It's not the rapid-fire stuff of Sturgess nor full of cute, au courant Ephron-isms. Instead, this conversation lays bare the connections men and women need to make if they are to join forces -- with art and its place in life as the background. This is heavy-duty but Kiarostami and his two leads make it seem effort-less, even when the talk and behavior take a turn for the surreal.

In the leading roles are the ubiquitous Juliette Binoche (above) and a baritone opera star relatively new to film named William Shimell (below). We know Binoche, and she is her usual, unusual self. That is to say: a different, but equally believable character -- quicksilver, playful, often angry -- that we have not seen up to now. Shimmel partners her with surprising aplomb; he's reticent but studly, stern but courtly, and does not let her character get away with a thing.

You may be put in mind briefly of everything from Linklater's Before Sunrise to Dassin's 10:30 PM Summer (but without the over-wrought quality that makes that latter film such weird fun). When the couple begins role playing -- and nearly seamlessly, at that -- you'll be ready to cry uncle. Visually, the filmmaker and his cinema-tographer make the most of mirror images (copies!), and there is one remarkable moment in which, when the perspective changes ever so slightly on a couple whom we think is engaged in a conver-sation, our entire viewpoint and understanding changes with it.

We also meet the Binoche character's young son (another copy?), played by the very good Adrian Moore, (above, from one of my favorites, Lezione 21).  Perhaps the film's funniest, most telling moment, however, involves brides -- and the replacement (another copy!) who quietly takes her place in a certain chair, below.  This is a movie that repeated viewings can only reward.

Certified Copy, from Sundance Selects, hits theaters this Friday, March 11, and will be available On-Demand beginning Wednesday, March 23.

2 comments:

AidanBoyce said...

This is an interesting take. I personally feel that Kiarostami has made his best films, and made them "under the Iranian yoke..."

James van Maanen, said...

I hope you're not right, Aidan, but maybe so. I could easily be allowing my preference for more Westernized content (and my antipathy toward the more negative aspects of Muslim culture -- particularly its attitudes toward women) to cloud my view. Armond White of the NY Press certainly agrees with you. Check out his take on the film, too, if you have not already. And thanks for commenting.