Saturday, April 2, 2011
On the onset, there's something utterly beguiling about Certified Copy, from acclaimed international filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami (The Taste of Cherry), a Euro-dialogue driven romantic comedy-cum-mystery. It stars the utterly beguiling Juliette Binoche, who is as beautiful as ever, this time speaking three tongues (French, English and Italian)-- for her efforts she won the best actress award at last year's Cannes Film Festival. Her co-star William Shimell matches her with presence. And it's a clever Brief Encounter travelogue set in an utterly beguiling small sector of Tuscany. However, the clever, beguiling start to this most arty of art projects begins to slowly, and very slowly descend a monotonous path that wares down ones patience, at least it did so in this viewers eyes, so much so that it feels little interest in particularly deserved to it's main characters, even after such charming first impressions. Eventually the cleverness folds on itself, somewhere towards the middle, leaving a sad feeling that the audience is just being punked by a smarter than thou, utterly pretentious Euro-art house flick.
Not that it's without pleasures, for the premise is certainly finely calibrated. We meet a writer on a book tour named James Miller (played by Shimell), whose promoting his latest art history hypothesis in Italy. The book concerns the value of great works of art versus copies of the same great works of art-- which is better, he argues perhaps both, perhaps neither. We meet a woman, Elle (played by Binoche) who slithers into his book junket. Through cutesy stages of happenstance (or maybe not) the two get together for an afternoon to discuss, ruminate, argue, flirt-- it recalls Before Sunrise\Sunset, and the early scenes make that comparison indeed complimentary. Over a visit to local cafe, the barista mistakes the two for a married couple, and Elle doesn't correct her-- the two then proceed to play out as a married couple for the remainder of the day. Fighting, bickering, playing out old memories, until the grand question arise: is it true? It's all a very clever metaphor of what more important: the real thing, or an imitation, and it's played a bit thickly as the film wares down.
What changes is not the chemistry of the performers, both of whom are captivating and play off one another beautifully. It's the pacing-- it's too languorous and dithering. The dialogue, while mostly sharp, starts to ware off it's clever sheen and almost become a distraction. Whereas Before Sunrise invited a beautiful and aching romantic possibility, Certified Copy offers a quandary-- how to truly care about a couple you can't trust. There's something here, but it sadly turns an utterly beguiling concept into a whimpering bore. C+