One of the tragic realizations in the early stages of my movie fanaticism was the precious lack of great films that I had the chance to see in the theaters. For years, the only film that met that criteria for me was the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I'd call that a small consolation compared to what it must have been like to watch, oh, say Chinatown or The Third Man or The Red Shoes when they first hit the town. But I don't know if it's because of my move to Chicago (most likely) or that movies in general are just on the upswing (entirely possible) but the last few months in the theaters have been the best stretch I've ever had.
Yesterday's feature was Certified Copy, and those who know anything about my taste in film won't be surprised that this one's been on my most anticipated list for a very long time (for those who don't, the short and sweet of it is that I could watch Juliette Binoche remake Jeanne Dielman as an 8-part miniseries and stare wide-eyed every minute of it). Bias prevailed - as it often does - and already as soon as March, 2011 has a film to rival the three goodness-to-gracious masterpieces that 2010 produced (which ones those are, you'll have to wait a few weeks for my yearly awards to find out). But if I know I loved it, I'm not entirely sure why, and it's telling that the primary thought on my mind as I strolled out of the theater was "I've got to find time to re-watch this." That's not happened yet, so bear with me as I stumble through this dicey recap.
There's a few things you need to know about Certified Copy and a whole mess of things you don't. The former are the facts, just the facts, and the later I will skirt around as much as possible while attempting to persuade you to find out for yourself. It's a very international film. Director Abbas Kiarostami, widely regarded as the greatest Iranian director of all time, has not only made his first film abroad, but also his first with an actress of professional caliber, and they don't come much more professional than Ms. Binoche. She's of course French and her onscreen partner James is played William Shimell, a British opera singer by trade. Their story (if it's really their story at all) plays out on an afternoon tour of Tuscany, a little in French, a little in Italian, and fair share in English too.
The result is something more accessible than I imagined, but I mean this more in the sense that I was never bored and I don't think most interested moviegoers would be either. Sure, there's a lot of intellectual debate on the nature of originals and copies raging on throughout the film, but Kiarostami seems to find amusement in undercutting these dry points whenever possible, so the conversation continues to play on while the camera (or, more often, Binoche) finds something new to preoccupy her attention. The result is that instead of blasting us with some cosmic point to it all, these ideas of duplication quietly lodge themselves in our subconscious, continually breeding reassessment of character dynamic as it morphs from one thing into another entirely.
A lot of people have been comparing this to Before Sunset, but that doesn't sit right with me. Spoken with due respect to the Linklater film (which I love), there's just a whole lot more going on in Certified Copy. Maybe if Before Sunset collided with Last Year at Marienbad while it had its nose buried in Walter Benjamin's essay "Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" we'd be somewhere closer to the truth. What that makes this is a member of the elusive genre of puzzle films, albeit a rarity even there because this is largely an emotional, not an intellectual, exercise. My desire to revisit it pronto has less to do with walking out befuddled than with the knowledge that there is definitely more here to be gained by repeat viewings.
All this has totally sidestepped what makes Certified Copy so intriguing. Suffice it to say that it's a very dynamic film, one in which the characters are not necessarily what they seem. This would almost certainly not work with a lesser actress than Binoche, who bears the full emotional heft of the movie squarely on her shoulders. I'm not kidding around when I tell people she's the greatest actress alive, and I can't fathom anyone else hitting the same joyous and tragic notes she delivers, all while being able to throw blind trust toward her director and screenplay. In that sense, I'm reminded much of Naomi Watts in Mulholland Dr., and this may just be the best performance since that perfect-storm ten years ago.
I'll wrap by reiterating that I'm dying to see this again, but also that I'm dying to sit down with someone else who's seen it and bounce thoughts off each other until new meanings and interpretations begin to eclipse everything I initially imagined. It's just that kind of film, and if that sounds intimating, I apologize, because all this analysis trash that I'm talking is ultimately irrelevant. The film, however, is not, and it deserves to be seen. This cannot be stressed enough.