Certified Copy is a peculiar film. I say this because I can’t make sense of its plot, but I inherently felt the emotions director Abbas Kiarostami intended me to feel. Setting the table for my dissonance is the screenplay. As the film begins we’re quickly introduced to British author James Miller (William Shimell). Miller is in Tuscany addressing a group of fans about his latest book, “Certified Copy”. Miller’s book, as he exquisitely and charmingly describes, muses about the potency of duplicated artwork. More specifically, he argues that a copy of a masterpiece (e.g. DaVinci’s Mona Lisa) holds just as much weight and importance as the original canvas. While Miller is giving his lecture, we are quickly introduced to an unnamed woman (Juliette Binoche) who seems deeply entranced by his presence. The woman, a French antiques dealer, sets up a meeting with Miller through his confidant. Once this social transaction is complete, the narrative begins to slip away from our reach. Despite being perfect strangers, Miller meets the unnamed woman at her antique shop. After a flirtatious introduction, the two uproot and take a ride to a small Italian village that is practically a factory for marriage ceremonies.
In this quaint village Miller is mistaken for the unnamed woman’s husband. It’s at this point that reality mutates into the surreal. Through their intimate dialogue, two complete strangers begin to act and speak to one another as if they’ve been married for decades. The unnamed woman begins to chide her husband’s absence from family life, while Miller absorbs the woman’s grief as if he was her absent lover. Soon, festering disappointments and a checkered history (fabricated or real) uncoil in front of us, as we see a newfound love souring into a spiteful relationship. Are Miller and the unnamed woman actually lovers trying to recapture magic at the tail end of a marriage? Or are they two playful spirits mimicking each other’s lovers as a form of catharsis? Writer/director Abbas Kiarostami keeps the truth distant, refusing to shed light on all the ambiguities found within the film. Masking the truth are close-ups and shots of reflective items (mirrors, car windows, etc.) that hinder our ability to see the character’s full reactions to one another’s words. Kiarostami’s dialogue, which is the driving force behind the film, deftly switches between dramatic heartbreak and babbling hilarity. At once it restricts and expands the ongoing relationship between Miller and the unnamed woman. From the use of three different languages to explosive, passionate outbursts, the truth feels nearly unattainable.
Obviously this concealed relationship is infuriating, but it also allows for the film to exist beyond understandable logic. The emotion of the film overpowers our need to piece the puzzle together, and this occurs because Kiarostami forces us to react with our heart, not our mind. Under this notion the certifiable truth behind Miller and the unnamed woman is irrelevant. What matters is that we inherently believe they exist in one form or another. Because logic doesn’t entirely apply, Certified Copy is undeniably representative of love and its various strands of hope and romantic paralysis. Thus rendering it a perfect copy.