The films of Abbas Kiarostami are critical favorites for God knows what reason. Slow and relatively plotless, they clog the screens at festivals around the world, enrapturing critics without really connecting with actual movie-goers.
“Certified Copy,” all the rage at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, won’t do anything to change that. Paced like a turtle race, with all the plot of a one-line synopsis (“Two people meet and talk”), it’s notable mostly for being the first film Kiarostami has shot outside his native Iran.
It begins with an art lecture by the author of a book on the intellectual differences between a painting and a copy of a painting. The speaker is a Brit, James Miller (opera baritone William Shimell), who has been invited to speak to an audience in Italy about his book.
Elle (Juliette Binoche) is a late arrival for the talk; she enters with what appears to be a 10-year-old in tow. He quickly grows bored (smart kid) and leaves; she waits until the talk is over, then follows the boy and takes him to lunch. There, he talks about how she only wanted to hear the talk because she has feelings for the speaker.
The next day, James shows up at the gallery that Elle (which means “she” in French – get it?) runs – and they drive off into the Italian countryside together. It’s unclear whether she is a longtime friend or a new acquaintance. But they wind up at a small coffee shop; when he goes outside to take a phone call, the owner of the coffee shop chats her up and the two women commiserate about husbands.
The implication is that James is Elle’s spouse – and yet, when they leave, she says that, when the coffee shop owner took him for her husband, Elle did not correct the mistake. But, as the day goes on, they speak with increasing intimacy and heat that seems to indicate that they are, in fact, husband and wife.
And – what? Their conversation is banal and pointless, with her complaining about his distance as a husband, his absence, his inability to fulfill her. He returns fire, essentially accusing her of being a nag.
Meanwhile, they wander an Italian village, visit the church where they supposedly were married and the hotel where they may have spent their wedding night.
Or did they? Kiarostami may be returning over and over to his notion of the difference between copies and originals – and, of course, to the copy of life that film represents. It’s the chatter of pompous university professors.
I don’t mind movies that are mysterious. Boring and vague is another matter. You may care to discover what Kiarostami’s foggy “Certified Copy” is about. I’m mostly mourning the time I lost watching it.