New on DVD: Certified Copy (2010)

A British author visiting northern Italy to promote his latest book spends an afternoon touring a small town with a French woman who owns an antique shop.

The woman, Elle, is played by the quietly luminous Juliette Binoche. The man, James, by operatic tenor William Shimell (who doesn’t so much as hum a tune here).

Initially it looks as if this offbeat effort from the famed Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami (A Taste of Cherry, The White Balloon, Through the Olive Leaves) is going to follow the format familiar from Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and Before Sunset: Two strangers spend several hours talking and walking through a picturesque setting.

Maybe they’ll fall in love. Maybe not.

They spend a lot of time discussing his book, which is about notions of real art and fake art and whether the authenticity of a painting or object really matters as long as it provides aesthetic pleasure.

This is more than idle chitchat, for questions of what’s real and what’s phony will dominate this fledgling relationship.

As their day progresses Elle and James are mistaken for a couple by the people they meet, and soon they have wordlessly agreed to continue that charade. They even start arguing like a married couple, resurrecting old disputes and hurts.

So they’re playing a game with the people they encounter, right?

Well, maybe.

You see, Kiarostami complicates things by suggesting that, far from being new acquaintances, Elle and James really are a married couple who get off on pretending they just met.

Could this be some sort of sexual role-playing, a way of spicing up a relationship that’s starting to go stale?

So delicate is the writing and the work by Binoche and Shimell that by film’s end audiences will be divided — are these strangers pretending to be a couple, or a couple pretending to be strangers?

Certified Copy is, of course, a talkfest, but one ameliorated by the gorgeous visuals. Kiarostami often relies on long, uninterrupted shots, and his compositions frequently feature reflections (in a window pane, a mirror, a framed picture).

This one practically screams “foreign film” ... and in this case that’s a good thing.

About the Author

Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at butlerscinemascene.com. He joined the Library's Public Affairs team in 2012.

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