I could write a book on this film. Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy is one of those rare films that continues to yield more and more meaning, nuance and depth for me with each viewing. I’ve already written about the idea of originality both in art and life in my original review. I’ve also written about how Certified Copy uses ambiguity in order to offer a self-reflexive critique of cinema in two separate academic projects. I could write about the deep themes of this film from several different angles, but this time I’ll write about the aspect of the film I’ve written about the least: what Certified Copy has to say about human relationships.
Over the span of a day, James Miller (William Shimell) and a woman credited as She (Juliette Binoche) have a conversation while driving and walking through Tuscany, Italy. What starts off as two people getting to know each other evolves into bitter arguments and more intimate conversations that suggest they may be a couple. At the least, they are acting like one.
There’s a bit more to it than that; the multifaceted themes of the film – all of which feed off each other – make it hard to hone in on just one of them. However, for the sake of brevity, I’ll argue for this piece that the progression and evolution of the relationship over the runtime of the film represents the life cycle of a relationship between two married people.
As She drives James through the narrow streets of Tuscany and the glimpse of beautiful Italian countryside, they have a polite debate. They are at an impasse, each clings to a differing worldview that seems to make them unsuitable. James holds that the whole purpose of life is to enjoy oneself and we should celebrate those who are able to find it. On the other end of the spectrum She clings to the idea that people should strive to achieve higher standards instead of being satisfied in lesser things.
They’re both able to smile and enjoy themselves through the conflict of their conflicting views, but the seeds are planted for turmoil. It festers there, unaddressed or tabled, until the turning point of the film. A woman in the café mistakes them for a married couple and instead of correcting her, the two begin to act like they are married.
Right after this scene, the two jump headlong into the tensions of the relationship. She gets a call from her son and begins to bring up how distant James is, losing himself in his work and uninvolved with their son. Earlier James admires the recklessness of She’s son, his desire to enjoy himself in spite of the consequences. In this scene, She points out that while to two might be living their lives of pleasure, they’re destroying her life.
James and She are caught up in two disparate extremes. James holds firmly to seeking and enjoying oneself so much that he’s willing to sacrifice the responsibility he has to his family. She, on the other hand, strives for an ideal so high that she lives her life in a way that she’s destined to find no pleasure and joy in it, seeing herself as a martyr of responsibility.
Both extremes are unhealthy. James is detached to the point of having no meaningful connections with the people that should mean the most to him, while She is so wrapped up in attaining something that can never be achieved that she will never be able to find satisfaction. For James to be truly happy, he must have no obligations, for She to be truly happy, she must have no problems.
Both are selfish and unhealthy expectations. Both ask something from the other that they can never give. As the film progresses, there are moment when these views seem to be crumbling, that each character is forced to face the wrongness of their philosophy. In true Kiarostami fashion, it’s never revealed whether or not the two are able to overcome these obstacles or find a way to move forward. It’s left up to the audience whether or not James and She, or any human couple, can find true happiness amid diverging differences and constant problems.
3 thoughts on “The Second Criterion: ‘Certified Copy’”
Pingback: Second Criterion: Certified Copy | Cinema Sights
I finally saw this film this past May and… wow… it’s truly a triumph and one that just keeps raises more questions than answers. Especially in the way it has that unexpected shift in tone and keep people guessing.
I really like this reading of the film. When I reviewed it, I focused mainly on the marriage itself being a possible copy (is a faked marriage less real than a real marriage) and the way that mirrored film itself (if a film is itself fake, does it matter whether a marriage within a film is real or fake – it’s all artifice). The thing I love so much about this film is the multiplicity of ways to approach it, and they all make it richer and deeper. I like the idea that they’re undergoing an entire marriage from start to possible finish within the one day. Now I have something new to think about when I rewatch it next.