Top Fifty Films of the 10s — Number Thirty-Nine

Top 50 10s 39

#39 — Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami, 2010)

Fittingly, Certified Copy had its genesis in a ruse. Lore has it that Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami was chatting with his friend Juliette Binoche, disguising a fictional story he’d concocted as an anecdote about real people. The story would eventually be transformed into the screenplay for Certified Copy, with Binoche tapped for one of the lead roles and novice actor William Shimell, an opera singer in his day job, for the other. The two play a man and woman who are brief acquaintances. Or maybe they’re husband and wide, with a shared lifetime of warmth of sadness. Or maybe they’re both. Or maybe the difference doesn’t particularly matter.

In the film, Shimell plays an author who has just published a book which makes the impish argument that it’s misguided to venerate original works in art. A copy of a work is as authentic as the work itself, and the originating piece itself copied something else, whether a life model or an influencing predecessor. He rejects independent value judgements on paintings and other works of art, arguably that notions of good and bad quality are projections of the viewer, not something that can actually be objectively true. Through the book author, Kiarostami lays out his own thesis and then realizes it so completely that the film becomes bizarrely symbiotic with itself. The themes stated explicitly insider the narrative and those played out with playful abstraction upon the narrative overlap so convincingly and compellingly that the concept of meta-commentary is expanded to contain it. With barely a whisper of effort, Kiarostami transforms the story with a magician’s deftness.

The filmmaker essentially created Certified Copy so he could bestow it upon Binoche, and there are few of her contemporaries who could match her graceful accomplishment here. She rides the curl of the film’s razor wire inventiveness, constantly recalibrating the character and yet keeping her firmly consistently all along, even when the fundamentals of her being — her profession, her bearing, her relationship to the author — suddenly hold little connection to what they were a scene or two before. Certified Copy could easily devolve into numbing narrative gamesmanship. Kiarostami doesn’t allow that to happen, in part because he wisely homes in on the welling humanity of Binoche’s performance. Philosophical debate can still have the core of the truest heart.

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