How does one define art? Is it about the form? Is it the emotion it evokes from the observer? Does it need to be a unique piece? Can a copy be artistically on par, if not supersede, the original work? These are just a small sample of the numerous questions raised in Abbas Kiarostami’s mesmerizing Certified Copy.
While in Tuscany promoting his latest book, British writer, and noted art historian, James Miller (William Shimell) meets a French antiques dealer (Juliette Binoche). The woman, who is never named in the film, is attending Miller’s lecture in hopes of securing an autograph for her son. Hitting it off instantly, the pair decides to spend their day touring the lush countryside. Along their journey they engage in both harmless flirtation and intellectual discourse over the merits of originality verse reproductions in art.
When their discussion takes a heated turn, one of the local villagers assumes that the bickering pair must be married. In her mind only a husband and wife could have such passionate discourse. Playing up such assumptions, the couple tries their best to behave as if they are indeed married. It is at this point where the lines between reality and fiction become blurred. Kiarostami forces the audience to question if the pair is actually putting on an act at all? Is their meeting a matter of chance or a calculated act? If the latter, where does the performance start and end?
One of the enjoyable things about Certified Copy is the way Kiarostami uses the film itself to prove the flaw in most people’s notion of art. There is a wonderfully poignant moment, early on in the film, where Miller points out that people misguidedly judge art based on the form and shape in which it is delivered. Citing the Tuscany landscape as an example, he remarks that the natural beauty of the trees are ignored by the locales, but those same trees will be heralded as art if placed in a museum.
Similar to the subjects in the film, Kiarostami is challenging the audience to focus their attention on the reactions a work of art, in this case a film, evokes rather than on the form in which it is presented.
He emphasizes this line of thought by changing the viewer’s perception of the unfolding narrative mid-stream. This also impacts how they ultimately interpret the characters. Miller preaches about the beauty in everyday objects at the beginning of the film, yet he is unable to fully see splendor of the woman in front of him, or the time they have shared together, as the narrative progresses.
Thought-provoking, and masterfully directed, Certified Copy embraces the capabilities of its own artistic form without feeling like a gimmick. The film plays like a wonderful piece of cinematic art that will evoke new emotions with each viewing. A trait that is essential to all good art.
Certified Copy is currently streaming on Netflix Canada