Certified Copy (2011)

What is the value of a copy? It’s a question that has been plaguing film ever since people began to think these motion pictures might have artistic worth. For some, the immediate reproducibility of film makes it an illegitimate, or at least lesser, art form. But for others, there is great value in the copy, perhaps even as much as the original.

James Miller (William Shimell) is such a man. He’s written a book called Certified Copy which holds the value of a copy is that it draws us to the original. But one reader, Elle (Juliette Binoche), isn’t convinced his book is as grand and wonderful as some make it out. Over the course of the day, the two argue about art, life and everything in-between.

Famous Iranian screenwriter/director Abbas Kiarostami weaves a masterful, flowing series of conversations that seeks to legitimize the art form in which they exist. Beyond that, his approach also echoes of his film Close-Up, a reenactment of a real event by the real people who lived through it. And more immediate than that, these conversations begin to fold back in on the fabric of the films and the characters.

Elle argues that while his ideas sound well-meaning, James has no conception of the realities of life, that choices have consequences and that his ideas are too postmodern when put up against the everyday life which Elle must live. While these conversations begin about art, they inevitably begin to circle around life because for Abbas Kiarostami, the two are intimately tied together.

James holds that the great pursuit of life is pleasure and enjoyment. He sees this in art, and he thinks the copy when enjoyed in such a way has this value and worth. But what is a copy? It’s a question that comes up when Elle shows off a piece of artwork that has been proven as a counterfeit but is still displayed in a museum and seen by many. Furthermore, it’s even show off as a counterfeit.

Is the value of art in its originality? If so, why then is the counterfeit still displayed proudly? Is it the quality of the craftsmanship? James comes to a breaking point in his own views when Elle shows him a statue he sees as trite and misguidedly sentimental. She has ascribed her own personal feelings about it that James vehemently disagrees with. Does that delegitimize Elle’s personal value in the art?

In an era where the label of art is becoming more and more broad, and hence less and less meaningful, such questions become essential. For there to be art, there must be that which is not art. For some, a copy could never be art, but in a world where copies have been certified, where are the bounds, what are the implications and how does that impact our understanding?

Beyond that, what is the validity of life itself? Elle’s own life seems to copy patterns of stories and antidotes that James peppers throughout their day together.  Are our own lives just copies of those who came before us, a never ending cycle of history? Or are we certifiably us? Like Elle and James at the statue, I imagine film buffs will come to different conclusions and possibly even bicker among themselves as to the answers, but the important thing is that Abbas Kiarostami is asking all the right questions.

© 2011 James Blake Ewing

  • http://magnoliaforever.wordpress.com Tyler

    I just watched this for the second time last night. I really do love it. First off, the acting is brilliant. Secondly, Kiarostami’s direction and cinematography is stellar, and thirdly, it is such a well-written film with such amazing dialogue that it’s almost impossible not to fall in love with it. Kiarostami certainly has a flair for dialogue; it is what drives most of his films, including the brilliant TASTE OF CHERRY and TEN. He is up there with Richard Linklater and Quentin Tarantino as a man who can make a thoroughly interesting film with more dialogue than imagery.

    • http://cinemasights.wordpress.com/ James Blake Ewing

      I could have gone on writing about this film for a long time, but I figure so many people have praised the aspects you bring up I wanted to ponder some of it’s questions a bit more. I do look forward to watching it again. It’s probably my favorite film of the year so far.

      I plan on watching Taste of Cherry and Ten in the very near future.

  • http://dukeandthemovies.com Sam Fragoso

    I’d like to re-watch the film before the year ends… I was perplexed at the time – not quite sure what it all equated to and what the massive amounts of inquisitions meant to the story.

    Just wondering, do you think they were together or is this there first time meeting?

    • http://cinemasights.wordpress.com/ James Blake Ewing

      It’s one I plant to rewatch before the year’s end.

      My answer to your question is yes.

  • http://nevertooearlymoviepredictions.blogspot.com/ NeverTooEarlyMP

    I’ve been hearing great things about Binoche’s performance here, and the art theory that you reflect upon helps me understand why. Your review got me thinking too about times that we intentionally try to make our lives into copies of something. Looking at the wedding picture, for example, makes me think about how each person tries to show that their love is unique and special by copying rituals that have happened over and over.

    It’s great to see you reviewing these philosophical films. I quite enjoyed reading what you’ve written.

    • http://cinemasights.wordpress.com/ James Blake Ewing

      It’s something I’ve been talking about in my graduate film class I’m taking. Just the other day we were talking about how so much of our modern life is now lived through the creation of photographs of our lives that somehow validate our existence in reality. I think that echoes the idea of copy which is subtly manifested in the film on one occasion when Elle asks James to take a photo with her.

  • http://filmjunkie25.blogspot.com Stevee

    I love this film. There’s nothing more that I can say.

    • http://cinemasights.wordpress.com/ James Blake Ewing

      Good enough for me.

  • http://twitter.com/oneaprilday Melissa Tamminga (@oneaprilday)

    What a great review. I wanted to wait to watch the film and write about it myself before I got to yours – and it’s such a treat to read now!

    –“While these conversations begin about art, they inevitably begin to circle around life because for Abbas Kiarostami, the two are intimately tied together.”
    You nail here so much of what I love about Kiarostami – that tying together of art and life. And it makes sense, doesn’t it, that we who love film would respond to such a tying together? We feel that film – and the experiencing of film – isn’t an esoteric exercise – it’s much more primal than that.

    –“Beyond that, what is the validity of life itself? Elle’s own life seems to copy patterns of stories and antidotes that James peppers throughout their day together. Are own lives just copies of those who came before us, a never ending cycle of history? Or are we certifiably us?”
    So beautifully expressed. I suppose it’s because I (you, too, I assume) think so much about storytelling (the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves, about others, about our lives), that the implications Kiarostami makes, the questions he asks through his characters, and the doppelgangers we see in the film — these things strike a chord with me. What is my story worth if it’s been told before? Or does it perhaps take on extra resonance exactly because it’s been told before? Impossible questions, necessary questions. And so, I think you’re right: “the important thing is that Abbas Kiarostami is asking all the right questions.”

    • http://cinemasights.wordpress.com/ James Blake Ewing

      Thanks! I figured we would share similar views as we seem to have a similar perspective on art and life and Kiarostami seems to share that perspective as well.

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