Certified Copy

What is the difference between an original work of art and a copy? Can one put the same value on them? If not, why not? Does the distinction even matter? These are the questions initially raised in the movie Certified Copy and, on one interpretation the central theme of the film.

The film was written and directed by the Iranian Abbas Kiarostami. A woman, Juliette Binoche attends a lecture on copies of original works by an art historian, William Shimell. At the end of his presentation she goes to the podium to ask him a question, they converse for a while, and then she invites him to visit a nearby village in Tuscany with her.

Who could ask for more—an interesting question, two handsome actors, wandering through a Tuscan village? As they drive through the countryside, they continue to talk. The talk seems strange. It isn’t the sort of conversation you have with a stranger. You wonder if they might actually know one another after all, as she begins to flirt with him and then argue a bit. The owner of the cafĂ© assumes they are married.

What is going on? What does Kiarostami mean by all this lofty discussion and incongruous talk?

You begin to interpret their conversation differently. You return to the original question. Are they re-enacting their marriage, creating a copy of the real thing? Is there a difference between the two?

You think perhaps they are married after all; perhaps they no longer live together. What fun to catch on or to think you catch on. You have that “I get it” feeling. Do you have to have a marriage like this to get it? Or is it obvious to everyone? It wasn’t to every moviegoer I spoke to about the film. And some of the reviewers were equally puzzled too.

Roger Ebert who I always count on for insight about the cinema confesses he isn’t sure what was going on. He writes, “Perhaps Kiarostami’s intention is to demonstrate how the reality is whatever the artist chooses, and that he can transfer from original art to copy in midstream. Or perhaps that’s not possible. Perhaps I have no idea what he’s demonstrating.”

And he concludes: “Is a skillful copy of the Mona Lisa less valuable than the original painting? What if the original had been lost? Would we treasure a copy? Such questions are raised by Certified Copy and not answered. Is raising them the point? Does Kiarostami know the answer? Does he care? At least we are engaged, and he does it well. Is that enough?….This is the best I can do with Certified Copy. Perhaps it was wrong of me to try.”

Come on, Roger--the re-enactment of their marriage is indistinguishable from their actual marriage. She wants to go somewhere; he doesn’t. She wants to have a meal; he isn’t hungry. She stops to have a conversation with some villagers; he walks on. Was their marriage any different? She wants him back; he is content in their separation. The roles they are playing in the story are duplicates of how they had always acted. The pas de deux of their marriage is their marriage.

As far as I’m concerned this is cinema at its best. It is also fiction at its best—an amusing story against a background of provocative questions, peopled by brainy individuals, wandering about the villages and countryside of Tuscany.