Certified Copy (2010)

Certified Copy (2010)

Dir. Abbas Kiarostami

Starring: Juliette Binoche, William Shimell, etc.


I’d recommend this to Penny, Grace and Kevin. I’d probably recommend this to Chris, Mitchell and Tony as well. I’m not sure if the last three would really like this, but I’m pretty sure they would find this interesting. Jill has a decent chance of being interested in this. No to Don. Larri has a very slim chance of liking this. Not sure about Marc.


The film begins with a writer (Shimell) talking about his recent book about art forgery. His book deals with the differences between the originals and copies–namely, why and if the originals are superior. Later he meets one an art collector (Binoche). They go for a drive, and thus begins a long conversation about art, which reminded me of films like My Dinner with Andre, Mindwalk or even Before Sunrise/Before Sunset films–especially when the conversation turns towards husbands and wives.

Having said all this, the film isn’t as straightforward as I’m making it sound. There is an element of mystery, and I don’t really want to say much more. I will say that there is a kind of mystical poetry in the film–the layers of ideas and the way ideas are expressed and overlap in different ways.

There is a lot to process in the film, and, unfortunately, I haven’t finished processing the film, so I don’t really have too much more to say.


While I don’t have much to say, I want to leave some questions, as well as do my best to respond to them. The first, and probabably most obvious question, is whether the James Miller, the writer, is the woman’s (Binoche; called Elle in the credits) real husband. I understand that critics have debated this point (which reminds me of Last Year at Marienbad–there are similarities with that film), and I’m not sure it’s really crucial. I tend to think that he’s not the husband, but sort of becomes the husband while remaining himself at the same time. (This is the poetic mysticism that I referred to earlier.) Being both isn’t possible, but there’s a sense that that could be the case.

This raises another question: how does their relationship/situation relate to the earlier question about original art versus copies of them? One person I knew interpreted the second half of the film to be a sort of test case for the question of the first part. Is the Miller–a copy of the husband–just as valid as the real husband? I’m not sure I agree with this reading, but it is interesting, and there might be something to this. (I still haven’t worked this out.)

I really should see this again and spend time thinking about it.

4 thoughts on “Certified Copy (2010)

  1. Certified Copy (2011)
    Juliette Binoche, William Shimell. Directed by Abbas Kiarostami.

    Certified Copy, starring Juliette Binoche and William Shimell, and directed by Abbas Kiarostami, is a mystery of a film, one of those rare movies whose presentation of the mystery is so excellent that it outweighs the need for a satisfaction of some kind of solution.

    When the film begins, the characters seem not to know each other. He is an art lecturer; she runs an antique shop. They meet, go for a drive, and are suddenly a married couple. Were they pretending earlier not to know each other, or are they pretending now to be married?

    That the film doesn’t really answer the question or provide evidence for the audience to decide one way or the other might drive viewers mad, a response I might agree with if the film weren’t so interesting and well done. Roger Ebert writes, “We assume there’s more going on here than meets the eye, but maybe what meets the eye is all that’s going on, and there is no complete, objective reality.” I agree with him: whatever the reality is, if in fact there is one, isn’t as important in this film as the way the mystery is offered, with (mostly) interesting dialogue, good acting, and interesting movement and counter-movement by the actors.

    I don’t adopt Ebert’s “take it at face value” approach in this movie mostly because some of the clues seem to point to these people at least knowing each other before the events in the first scene, but I’m not so beholden to that interpretation that I find the opposite preposterous. It works for me with its inconsistencies and unanswered questions because the whole doesn’t have to add up to anything if its parts are honest and real, and the film is made up of some very real in-the-now moments. There is one scene near the end, where Binoche rests on an outdoor stair, that I wish I could have frozen and painted. Does the moment give us any clues about the whole picture? I had the feeling that it did, but even if it did not, it was strikingly real then, and that was good enough for me.

    Which pretty much sums up my feelings about the whole movie.


  2. I recently re-watched and discussed this film with some other people, and I think I have a better handle on it. In addition to the comments of some these people, an interview with the director, Kiarostami, lead me to an interpretation of the film that satisfies me, for the most part.


    The film seems to be based on the following analogy: the original work of art is to the beginning of a romantic relationship as a copy of a work of art is to a much later point in a romantic relationship. At the beginning of a romantic relationship, everything is wonderful–or at least one’s perception of it is wonderful. Over time, the deficiencies and flaws,reveal that the relationship wasn’t as good as it seemed, and/or negative experiences sours the relationship.

    Here’s Kiarostami speaking about that:

    After we’ve seen so many copies of something (a great work of art) over so many years, the original stops us in our tracks. It takes our breath away. We’re not all experts who can stand before an original and understand it. Therefore, without the existence of copies, we wouldn’t understand originals.

    When we fall in love, we see everything as an original. We’re the ones pulling the wool over our own eyes. We inflate the value so much and add so many zeros to it, that we can’t afford it ourselves. And we can’t pay the price. We start eliminating, one by one, the zeros on the price tag. We discount the price. Then, we arrive at the truth.

    The point here, which I truly believe, is that access to the original is out of reach for many of us. Therefore, we should value and appreciate a copy, That’s what’s important.

    If the film has a message that last paragraph is it.

    I would add that Kiarostami and the film also go into universal differences between men and women which leads to misunderstanding and often dissatisfaction and conflict in a relationship. In the interview, Kiarostami advises people to accept these differences and the lack of understanding that stems from them, which is consistent with the idea of accepting a relationship that doesn’t fully live up to the ideal.

    In terms of the characters in the film, I’m not sure they arrive at that point. At the end of the film, the church bell is tolling, which for me connotes death–the end of a relationship. On the other hand, it could also signify the realization that the relationship is less than ideal, but the characters have a choice in how to handle this. (This angle seems less persuasive to me–at least in terms of the the fate of the characters’ relationship.)

    I should mention one last thing–namely, the nature of the relationship between the two main characters. Were there really married or not? My sense is that the film condenses and depicts a fifteen year relationship in a quasi-mystical way. When the two characters meet at the art shop initially, that represents the beginning of the relationship. But at the cafe, the relationship experiences a metamorphosis, fast forwarding the relationship by fifteen years. The elderly barista, who mistakes them for a married couple, seems to be the impetus behind this. To me, what happens in the film between the characters is just a representation of a relationship over several years, albeit in a condense and unusual way.


    Here are some other comments by Kiarostami from that interview that are worth reading:

    Someone once said that love is the result of misunderstanding. We go in search of misunderstanding. When we’re in agreement, when we truly understand one another, that’s when love comes to an end. We attribute all goodness to the person and fall in love with them. And of course we arrive at an unsatisfying truth, because we don’t want to know the truth, that when we understand each other, love ends. So in a sense, yes, love is a result of misunderstanding. When we don’t understand someone, we fall in love with them. When we realize that individual’s truth, we say they weren’t who we thought. So love is nothing but an illusion. Fortunately we have this capacity. Otherwise, there would be only one original. And everyone would fall in love with him or her.

    I’m not sure if the English translation was faulty, but I would express the above in a slightly different way. In the beginning of a relationship, we don’t “misunderstand” someone so much as we don’t fully know them–not who they really are. Generally, it’s not possible. Only time and real life experiences we reveal this. Because of this, having a more romanticized and idealized image of the person is much easier. And yes this can (or does) contribute to falling in love with the person.

    On a related note, I think there’s a different tack that one could employ, when seeking a romantic relationship. First, one could actually attempt to minimize romantic factors initially–the factors that really can distort one’s perception of the person–and instead seek to understand a person well and then identify whether or not one enjoys and respects that person, as well as shares some core values. In other words, try to find and develop a good friendship–someone who would enjoy being with even if they were not physically attractive. This approach bases the relationship on something that seems more substantive and less volatile. The factors that make a relationship romantic are generally more volatile and transitory. Therefore, a relationship not based on these factors has a better chance of enduring and satisfying both people.

    Having said this, the approach is not fool proof. One still can deceive one’s self about the other person. And knowing who the person is, initially, can be extremely difficult. (A longer courting period might be helpful.) The factors that served as a foundation for the friendship may have been illusory or could even change over time. In that case, the friendship may dissolve,and the couple could experience a similar type of dissatisfaction as a relationship based on romance.

    Given this, a better approach might involve not basing a relationship (marriage) on friendship. But what would be the basis for such a relationship? One alternative might simply be a commitment to being a good life partner to the other person. In a way, this seems to key a dynamic in arranged marriages (or at least some of them). In general, arranged marriages are less about romance or friendship.

    But put aside arranged marriages. Suppose individuals went out and sought people who would first look for others willing to be a committed life partner. In such situations, physical attraction, friendship, and even romance wouldn’t be completely excluded and irrelevant; they would just not be primary. If some minimal threshold of physical attraction, shared values, and compatibility could be met, and the couple could commit to being good life partners, I could see this leading to a enduring and satisfying relationship; and the primary reason for this: de-emphasizing the most transitory and volatile aspects of a relationship and emphasizing something the most enduring and stable.

    The key question is, what constitutes a “good life-partner.” I haven’t thought of this deeply, but off the top of my head, here’s what I got:

    • Commitment to be faithful to the other person;
    • Commitment to help them fulfill their aspirations and goals;
    • Commitment to care for them physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually;
    • Commitment to doing what’s best for the other person;
    • Commitment to work together to raise children (if they agree to have children).

    Looking at this list, I would think there has to be mutual respect and regard for the other person. The stronger the respect, the greater chance of success for acheiviSame with compatibility–in terms of personality, social norms and values

    1. These are all interesting comments if one accepts either that the purpose of dating and romance is a permanent life partnership, or that a permanent life partnership is the ideal goal, whether it’s the purpose of dating and romance or not.

      I think in most of our culture, these approaches remain dominant in theory but not in practice. We once considered it ideal to work a good job with a good employer and stay until we retired, but this is no longer the approach young (and by “young” I mean younger than us, which is no longer young) professionals take.

      These days, you find a good job until you find a better situation. If things went well, you leave the employer better than it was when you arrived, and you are a better employee for the new situation. It’s not necessarily a failure on your part or the employer’s part when you part ways.

      Similarly, I think in practice we think of healthy relationships as right for the moment, until it’s time to move on. We’re better for whoever comes next, and hopefully we’ve made our exes better for whoever is next for them.

      I still think most of us approach marriage as the permanent thing, and even the ideal end of dating, but I also think a great many (if not most) of us are thinking of dating more as we think of our careers. A lifetime of being with whoever the right person is at the time.

      Which has little to do with the film. I’m just responding to your layer-three thoughts extending beyond the film.

    2. I definitely think the film is primarily referring to serious, romantic relationships, that couples intend or hope will last a long time, like a more traditional marriage.

      And I agree that many people may not be approaching relationships, expecting or even wanting them to last long.

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