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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Certified Copy

Juliette Binoche in unconventional Tuscan love story

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The protagonists in the works of Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami (Taste of Cherry) have been described as being on actual quests by fictional means as they encounter the apparent randomness of reality in what feels like real time. Kiarostami's films don't move at a speed faster than life, but instead force viewers to slow down and experience the almost imperceptible motion of a world turning second by second toward uncertain ends.

Kiarostami and the generation of directors who emerged after the Iranian revolution are indebted to Italian neo-realism, the post-World War II movement (Bicycle Thief) that wrenched filmmaking from artifice to reality by moving it from the movie studio to the street. It's only fitting that Kiarostami's first feature film outside his homeland, Certified Copy, was shot in his aesthetic homeland, Italy, and in that most scenic region of Tuscany. Of course, with its cypress groves and sunshine, Tuscany has become the standard Hollywood backdrop for romance, but Kiarostami's story delights in turning the conventions inside out. Certified Copy becomes not so much a love story as a story about love imagined.

Juliette Binoche plays an unnamed shopkeeper in Tuscany, selling reproductions of antiques, who attends a lecture by British culture studies maven James Miller (played by opera star William Shimell). He walked straight from C-SPAN, rumpled, dryly self-deprecating and plugging a book that pretends to unpack the doubtful distinctions between copies and originals. She invites him on a meandering drive through the Tuscan countryside with no certain purpose evident. Their trilingual conversation rambles through art, child rearing and mortality, and turns increasingly testy. He thinks reality is a bitter pill we must swallow, even if he has tasted life largely through books. She is more the romantic tempered by practical concerns. Pretty soon they are bickering in public and everyone pegs them as an old married couple.

The odd twist occurs when they begin to play along with the assumptions of strangers on a journey that increasingly recalls Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf for a society that has lost its footing in the tangible. They are playacting in a pantomime of an affair that never was and might never be. Certified Copy is a fascinating labyrinth worth exploring more than once.

Certified Copy
opens Friday at the Downer Theatre.
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