The following is a reprint of our review from the Cannes Film Festival.
While many of the films arriving on the Croisette boast high concepts, deep thematic reach and heady illusions of grandeur, it takes a master like Abbas Kiarostami to approach a very simple premise and then execute it with brilliant elegance, to show other filmmakers (juggling and dropping more balls than they can handle) how its done.
"Certified Copy" follows a very straightforward and (typically for Kiarostami) enigmatic story: a woman (Juliette Binoche) invites a celebrated author to meet with her the day after he has arrived in Italy to receive a prestigious award. What starts out as a seemingly innocuous date slowly unfolds into a fascinating character study between two people who, as it's gradually revealed, share a past that runs very deep. The two decide to spend the day in a remote Tuscan village; walking the streets, taking in the sights, eating a meal. But it soon becomes clear that the two have hurt each other deeply, perhaps irrevocably, and as their day goes on this pain slowly boils to the surface.
The strength of the film lies in two places: firstly, the script is a knockout. The dialogue here sparkles with a raw realism that is breathtaking; there are speeches and entire sequences that run deep with emotion. However, Kiarostami's words would never find purchase without the immaculate lead performances by Juliette Binoche and William Shimell. The duo are simply a tour de force; Shimell and Binoche imbue their dialogue, and in turn, the onscreen relationship with a familiarity that is bristling, honest and real. But its Binoche's open-nerved, vulnerable performance that will mark her as an easy candidate for the Best Actress award here. Speaking in a trifecta of languages — French, Italian and English — her desperation, vulnerability, hope and despair is palpable. Already an onscreen legend, its easy to forget how great Binoche can be and here she may have turned in the finest performance of her career.
"Certified Copy" may be Kiarostami's most accessible, mainstream film to date (comparisons to "Before Sunrise/Sunset" seem to be flying about) but it still retains his feel and his touch. Some audiences may become frustrated as the source of the couple's turmoil — and even whether or not their relationship is real or imagined — is continually hinted at, circled around, but never spelled out. But while that intentional narrative trick does keep the film at a clinical distance, (at certain times to its detriment - particularly in the early portions of the film), as we continue to get know this couple it simply ceases to matter. For anyone who has been in a long-term relationship that has changed and shifted as the people involved have, the film will ring with a truth that is difficult to describe. Kiarostami has crafted an observational look at a relationship in disarray that is so specifically structured and contained, that it rings with an authenticity rarely captured on film. Whether or not the on-screen coupling is imagined or a certified copy hardly matters; what it reveals and what it speaks to remains too real to dismiss.
By turns funny and moving, intellectually absorbing and emotionally rich, "Certified Copy" is yet another admirable display of craftsmanship from one of the world's most celebrated filmmakers. Kiarostami has taken his distinctive style (yes, the long shots are still here, as gorgeous as they have ever been, and a sequence inside a car as it drives to the village has to be seen to be believed) into a new arena, perhaps to the dismay of some (a few boos scattered the otherwise universally positive reception at the film's screening). "Certified Copy" will undoubtedly bring Kiarostami to his biggest audience yet but, in a rare feat, it doesn't sacrifice one iota of his talents in getting him there. [A-]