Certified Copy is certainly in the running for one of the best films I have seen in 2011. You would not guess this by looking at the poster or the anonymity of its title. Two things do stand out to me immediately: actor Juliette Binoche and director Abbas Kiarostami. Binoche is one of the greatest of her generation, able to transform herself at will. Kiarostami is not a household name but is nonetheless a master of intimate cinematic storytelling (A Taste of Cherry). Certified Copy is about an English writer (William Shimell) and a French art dealer (Binoche) who spend the day in Tuscany together. He is there on a book tour, and she is there ostensibly as his handler.
What transpires requires some delicacy in explaining. While having coffee in a small village, a presumption is made about them by a local: that they are a married couple. The presumption and all that follows lies at the heart of what is a masterful piece of work by Kiarostami. Cutting is kept to a minimum, but that’s fine because often the actors are staring right at us (rather than each other), and what actors: Binoche displays such a range of emotion and depth of feeling in her role as the conflicted half of the presumed couple, and Shimell – an opera singer in real life (believe it or not, this is his first film) – is hypnotic as the edgily self-consumed, emotionally opaque other half.
I am tempted to compare this film in some respects, stylistically at least, to Michael Haneke (Funny Games, Caché), with whom Binoche has collaborated many times. And yet, Certified Copy lacks the brutality, the near-misanthropy of Haneke. Which is not to say that you won’t be kept on the edge of your seat wondering just what is going on between the two leads, and within them. A must-see for anyone looking for depth in their drama.