Synopsis: In Italy to promote his latest book, a middle-aged English writer (William Shimell) meets a young French woman (Juliette Binoche) and jets off to San Gimignano with her.
Auteur forces hand with forgery.
CANNES FILM FESTIVAL: Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy proves that auteur-worship can blind producers, festival programmers and film critics into assuming that a film has qualities it does not actually possess.
Copie Conforme, Kiarostami's first film to be made outside Iran, was shot in Tuscany and stars Juliette Binoche and acclaimed British baritone William Shimell, speaking English, French and Italian. The bulk of the film follows a French gallery owner in a Tuscan town (Binoche) as she spends the day with visiting author James Miller (Shimell), whose latest book, 'The Certified Copy,' about the contrasting power exerted by original works of art versus replicas, has found an audience in Italian translation.
While the premise holds promise, the actual execution is painfully awkward, forced and contrived. After its Cannes premiere (in a competition slot it does not warrant) apologists claimed that the forced quality is part of a balancing act illustrating the delicate variations that distinguish a "copy" of an authentic relationship from the real thing. Meaning, I suppose, that the leads "could" have given convincing performances, but in a brilliantly modulated joint denial of their talent, come across as stiff, erratic and cranky because that is what their director desired.
Poppycock and balderdash.
Would you rave about a meal made from potentially tasty ingredients poorly combined, served at random intervals, sometimes hot and sometimes cold simply because the chef had a reputation for having made a handful of delicious meals earlier in his career? I didn't think so.
There is no reason why a filmmaker can't make a wonderful film outside their native land. (Hollywood history is far richer for having attracted the likes of, say, Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder, German-speakers with a near-miraculous grasp of comic timing in English.) In the two-intellectuals-talking category, Frenchman Louis Malle worked wonders in his Manhattan-set My Dinner with André.
The dialogue Binoche and Shimell are called upon to exchange is mannered and unconvincing most of the time. James has given a lecture and has a train to catch at nine the next evening. She drives him to a town where newlyweds come on their wedding day. When Binoche and Shimell stop in a café for coffee, a wise older Italian woman mistakes her customers for a married couple. Binoche, whose character has lived in Italy for five years, neglects to disabuse the woman of that whimsy. Binoche answers that they have been wed 15 years, that her husband is far too involved in his work and that he only deigns to shave every other day.
From that point on, the two leads – who may have met in the past 24 hours, or may have met 15 or more years ago – converse and quarrel, spar and pontificate as if they just might be an actual married couple who know each other well enough to express dissatisfaction at each others shortcomings. If, that is, in the course of their union they had decided to speak to each other as if they were underwritten characters in a bad play. Hey, it happens.
Binoche has a son who seems fairly perceptive despite the fact that his mother's parenting skills consist almost entirely of berating him in French, in person or over the telephone.
Binoche is a radiantly convincing actress in the right role, but this performance mostly sits there as part of a stillborn film almost as annoying as Daniele Thompson's turgid Jet Lag (Décalage Horaire), starring Binoche and Jean Reno as two unconvincing French characters stuck at the airport.
Opera singer Shimell is courtly and charming, which means he humours his host far longer than most normally constituted men would, and that he's at his worst when called upon to blow a gasket.
The film does offer a few semi-memorable moments. In a public square, a French tourist with his back to the camera seems to be dressing down his wife; it turns out he's speaking on the phone to somebody else. The film's most original touch is the moment where Binoche's character removes her bra without removing her dress, because the undergarment, like her shoes, is uncomfortable. (Not exactly Anita Ekberg soaking up the water in the Trevi Fountain, granted.)
Moviegoers who think they would enjoy watching Binoche read the telephone directory, may wish she'd done that instead of memorising the lines provided.
Assuming Kiarostami spelled out what he intended to film and truthfully described the tone and delivery on display in the finished product, the producers who went through with Certified Copy are certifiable.
Watch Films Online
Films on SBS TV
SBS Film Guide to...
Celebrate Australian filmmaking with this home-grown season. Starts May 25.
A month of movies with an edge. Saturday nights in April.