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Peter T Chattaway

Certified Copy

153 posts in this topic

I am really champing at the bit to talk about this film here.

I agree that it is a film about marriage, despite the wide array of relational configurations its two main characters could inhabit.

But it is also a crescendo in Kairostami's career-long obsession with cinema and self-perception. I guess what we learn from Certified Copy is that this innovative impluse we found in the Iranian New Wave, which revealed itself in Kairostami's tendency to ignore the fourth wall, is not just a handy political or social device. Rather, Kairostami has always been onto something more fundamental, something that emerges from his camera as a means of thinking compassionately about other people. As it turns out, Kairostami has always been interested in love. Not just romantic love, marital love, or an abstract form of social compassion. But love as the fundamental element of the stories we tell about ourselves, and the stories we tell about each other. For better or for worse, we are all histories of love. (And this idea that "we are all histories of love" is the basis of a pretty profound politic... But that is probably the Yoder in me emerging in response to this film.)

Our experience of love reconstructs the timing and arranging of events in our self-narration, and configures the way we think about our future. After watching Certified Copy, I just sat and thought back through all the other Kairostami films and watched these little switches flip. There has been something Resnais-like going on. Something Tarkovskian going on. I just never noticed it before.*

I didn't get Sicinski's praise for this film until this little a-ha moment happened. Now I get it. I think this is a really important film not just because it represents the high point of Kairostami's work, but because it does something a bit mind-blowing: It shows us the transcendent pulse of what I always pigeon-holed as a political film movement.

*Though in hindsight this is exactly why I have always prized Makhmalbaf's The Cyclist, which while being very political is also very fundamentally about a simple act of love by someone unwilling to accept the current "story".

Edited by M. Leary

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Overwhelming. Absolutely overwhelming.

The implications of the film's last act are so tremendous that I'm afraid to review this film. Afraid I'll jump to conclusions.

Leary, I'm going to have to email you.

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And yes, Michael. Bradshaw's comment is really bizarre.

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Overwhelming. Absolutely overwhelming.

The implications of the film's last act are so tremendous that I'm afraid to review this film. Afraid I'll jump to conclusions.

I know exactly how you feel. I am going to have to go out on a few limbs in mine, but situations like this demand it.

But it sounds like you also think Kairostami is being self-reflective here in terms of his career as an Iranian artist? I have only read two reviews of the film, but I am not seeing anyone really address this. It seems to me that this is a pretty profound lens through which we can watch all these copies unfold.

And just to toss this out, this film has forced me out on an interesting limb. If I am reading the film correctly, then Kairostami is intentionally validating the reasons I think cinema is so important.

Edited by M. Leary

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Let's talk about Binoche, too. I really need to see this again, but I think she has expanded the range of her powers with this.

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Let's talk about Binoche, too.

This probably isn't the kind of response you were looking for, but as I watched Certified Copy I kept thinking, "It's comforting to know that Juliette Binoche will always be one of the sexiest women on the planet and that she'll always be eight years older than I am." That's a strange thought, I know, but it's actually relevant to a discussion of the film. Binoche is beginning to show her age a bit -- she's rounder in the hips (and made to look even rounder by the pleated skirt she wears throughout the film) and there are finally a few wrinkles around her eyes. In other words, she (like her character) is a middle-aged woman, and I as a viewer was constantly looking at her, reevaluating her, seeing her again and again. Kiarostami is so good at making us look closely.

I'm headed out of town today for a business trip but am looking forward to watching this again when I get back. Amazing film, but I definitely need to give it more work.

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In other words, she (like her character) is a middle-aged woman, and I as a viewer was constantly looking at her, reevaluating her, seeing her again and again. Kiarostami is so good at making us look closely.

And then he pulls the rug out from underneath us towards the end when she

removes her undergarment for comfort's sake.

It is such an offhand gesture, but it reconfigures the looking process. We become acutely aware, in a very material way, of the layers involved with what we have been watching. I don't mean for this to come across as rude in any way, but there are no careless gestures in this film.

Edited by M. Leary

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I almost mentioned that! And I'm not even particularly interested in the metaphoric implications (removing layers). Knowing that Binoche is no longer wearing a bra makes me look at her differently, just as Miller begins to look at her differently. It is a sexualized gaze. Which reminds me of my favorite part of Michael Sicinski's long essay -- the point near the end where he talks about the different ways we look at our long-term partners. But maybe I just have this at the front of my brain because by coincidence I happened to watch Certified Copy three days before Joanna and I celebrate our 15th anniversary.

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This probably isn't the kind of response you were looking for, but as I watched Certified Copy I kept thinking, "It's comforting to know that Juliette Binoche will always be one of the sexiest women on the planet and that she'll always be eight years older than I am."

Now you know how I feel about Catherine Deneuve. But at least I look older than she does.

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I almost mentioned that! And I'm not even particularly interested in the metaphoric implications (removing layers). Knowing that Binoche is no longer wearing a bra makes me look at her differently, just as Miller begins to look at her differently.

I was trying to figure out how to say that without sounding crass. But it is right on. (And we have just watched her in a very intimate, tight shot put on lipstick and choose just the right earrings, noting the age in her face juxtaposed against a certain gleam in her eye.)

But this happens. This moment happens all the time. It has been a long week and the kids are running us a bit ragged. But it is Saturday in the botanical gardens and my wife is just over there across the little field of lilies and the breeze catches her a certain way. Oh. So, who is that beautiful woman? She looks a bit like my wife but she is older. She looks like she has lived through some difficult things, but the resulting gravity is immensely attractive.

There are two movements happening in that moment: the momentary shock of having to re-recognize your wife, and the awesome gift of re-recognizing your wife. I am not sure which one is the certified copy (the memory or the re-recognition), but I don't really care.

I need to stop talking about this film in public, it makes me blabber like no other film can make me blabber.

Edited by M. Leary

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See, now we're zooming in on the aspect of this film I'm most excited to discuss in my review.

It is not an insignificant matter - where she goes to take off her bra.

(That may be my favorite line I've ever posted to A&F, by the way.)

As ridiculous as it seems, it is so important.

Okay, deep breath: I can't take a step in exploring this film without taking several more.

It's so interesting to me that Kiarostami takes us to the door of the church, but doesn't set foot inside.

We've been hearing bells in the distance throughout the film. But now, the wedding feast has been prepared. We've had wine. We've had a moment in which bread is broken between husband and wife. The sacraments are crucial in this film, no doubt about it.

And everything is moving toward the possibility of another consummation of marriage: a second honeymoon and perhaps the first true consummation. (Or is Elle leading him toward a cheap copy, a nostalgic gesture, a feeble attempt to rekindle a spark of what was once a genuine fire?) Elle -- I love that her name is a palindrome! -- comes out of the church, and now her beauty is that much more beguiling. The seduction has been turned up to "11." James is immediately intent on knowing, "Were you praying?" He's put off by the idea that she would have become someone who would kneel and surrender to some kind of Authority higher than his own intellect.

Throughout the film, Elle has found it easier to be engaged by the questions, themes, and subjects of art, while James is preoccupied with his intellectual distance, with his detached state of interpreting and expounding upon a work of art. (Watch the way he uses his glasses throughout as the sort of costume of detached authority.)

Their son really is a copy of the father, a distorted reflection who helps us understand him. Outside the cafe at the beginning, the boy follows his mother, but at a distance, maintaining an illusion of independence. (But he *is* following her.) His attention is mostly absorbed by his digital device... his construct. Then, in the cafe at the beginning, the son goes on staring into his digital gadget, pummeling her with brusque questions, pushing her around and hurting her, and failing to make much eye contact with his mother at all.

(Note: The son does not seem to know the identity of his father. He may suspect - he gives James only fleeting and begrudging glances during the reading, as if he's beginning to suspect their connection. This has interesting implications when seen in retrospect, as James gives the church only begrudging attention, and resists going in.)

Like most little boys, Elle's son is focusing on his own wants and needs. He's hurting his mother's feelings. He's disruptive and rude. After that, through the rest of the film, James is doing the same things. He follows Elle at a distance. He hurts her feelings. He remains preoccupied with the constructs of his own arguments and rarely makes any kind of meaningful connection with Elle, even though she is almost always available for it. He complains about being hungry. He complains about the quality of the wine. He is so insistent on being The One Who Has Authority on any given situation -- even the telling of a joke! -- that he cannot enjoy anything.

The joke: That's a very telling episode. James is bothered when Elle anticipates the punchline of his joke about the genie and the lamp. And yet, she loves the joke anyway, laughing heartily, while he says the laugh isn't what's important in the joke. The moral, he says, is what's important. And yet wasn't he just waxing eloquent about how the meaning of life is enjoyment? Pleasure? That's all well and good when he's the one saying it, but he cannot live that way, because he won't humble himself and partake!

I'm reminded of Miss Honeychurch's rebuke of Cesil in A Room With a View: "He's the sort who can't know anyone intimately, least of all a woman."

James proves that from the beginning of the film. As he walks around his wife's shop, looking at the statues there, he says that he has to keep these things at a distance because they're dangerous. And as he gestures to the statues, we see his wife reflected in a mirror, statuesque herself as if she's just one of those "dangerous things"; he's willing to philosophize her, even judge her, but he will keep her at a distance because if he surrenders to her, he will be changed, and something will be required of him.

Thus, it's so amazing to me, and exciting to me, that the film takes us to church near the end!

The backdrop of the closing shot, the sounds of the closing shot... it seems to me to be a thrilling invitation. James is on the spot about everything at once: Love, marriage, art, faith. He is, once again, being called to be a part of a wedding picture. But he wont do it. Even if it's the Cosmic Wedding. Even if it's his own.

And what is the church, in this context, but the greatest expression of the question of faith: Is it real? Is it genuine? Is it a fake, a copy, a feeble attempt to preserve something that has been lost? Is it all wishful thinking? Is it clumsy and sentimental? Or is it as valuable as "the Original" that inspired it?

What is James going to choose to do? Will he answer the invitation, even though it would mean setting aside his intellectual pride, and commit himself to love? Or will he remain aloof so that he can cling to the illusion of his mastery of the subject?

This has everything to do, I suspect, with Kiarostami himself.

He has been criticized by the people of his culture about not producing the kind of art they want him to produce. He is a man without a national identity anymore. He's a man without a country, celebrated around the world for his challenging, cerebral art. He is moving between worlds. Will he stay there as an independent? Or is he hearing some greater call?

Okay, I'm going to cut myself off there. Many more effusive trips through the movie are on the way in the weeks to come, though...

Edited by Overstreet

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The camera waiting outside the church is such a bizarre moment. I like the way you track James' control issue in this film. On account of this, I couldn't help but think of the church scene in Eliade terms. She is crosses the threshold, but he simply has to wait for her to come back. Which is quite sad.

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The film is also so symmetrical:

At the beginning, he descends through shadow into the shop to find her, and he's afraid. He speaks of danger, of keeping his distance. At the end, he climbs up to find her. He turns off the light on purpose this time, and she tells him to turn it back on.

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There is a lot of symmetry with everything except Elle. Her character seems to make a significant change over the course of the film. Initially, she relates to James the same way she related to her son in the cafe. But that changes.

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The camera waiting outside the church is such a bizarre moment. I like the way you track James' control issue in this film. On account of this, I couldn't help but think of the church scene in Eliade terms. She is crosses the threshold, but he simply has to wait for her to come back. Which is quite sad.

Any thoughts about the way Kiarostami lingers on the bread in his hand, when he's opening the door? This is the first film I've seen in a while in which so many individual shots have stayed with me, but none as much as that one. I can't remember if they actually consumed their bread, though.

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They did. He hesitates, he opens the door with the bread still in his hand, and after she leaves and starts walking, he eats.

I'm telling you... this is what it's like, ruminating on this film after seeing it a second time:

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I think I could watch that for almost as long as the movie.

I'll be seeing this again as soon as I can manage. It's been a while since I've been seized by that sort of urge, too.

"J-J-James..." is the first truly electrifying cinematic moment I've had this decade. Equal to "Did you find your Indies, John?"

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Ha! That's a great comparison.

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I really wish I'd thrown this onto my laptop before I left for my business trip. Instead, I'm trapped in a hotel room with 25 channels of basic cable.

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I think I could watch that for almost as long as the movie.

I'll be seeing this again as soon as I can manage. It's been a while since I've been seized by that sort of urge, too.

"J-J-James..." is the first truly electrifying cinematic moment I've had this decade. Equal to "Did you find your Indies, John?"

Yeah, that is a clever parallel. I am quite sure this film is going to have the same grand effect on me that TNW still has. I love the frisson of having potentially watched one of the greatest films I will ever see.

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Heartbreaking. Maybe.

The film that came to mind for me as I watched was Ma Nuit Chez Maud. It's just as talky. Some similarities in themes.

I also need to see this again. I want to read the first half in the light of the second.

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About the distribution of this:

I have lots of art houses available to me. Often a film will open in L.A. but will be in OC in a week or two. (OC is much more convenient, though we sometime like the trip to Hollywood or the Westside.) We kept waiting for it to move, but it was starting to cut back on venues rather than spread out, so we braved the traffic to see it in Hollywood. Certainly worth the effort, but even more - it's worth letting people see it.

I think the culprit here is that IFC wants it seen through the on demand option. On the one hand, it makes it available to people who don't live in art house rich places like this, but on the other hand, I think this is going to be better on big screen rather than a smaller - even HD screen. First thing that comes to mind are those head shots where we see them as if we are the mirror we are looking into. Those faces filling the screen just won't be the same unless you really have a big screen.

OK, rant over.

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Alejandro Adams just Tweeted:

Criterion's "brand value" was shot the minute they got in bed with IFC. The Dunham pickup is icing. The Certified Copy snub demonstrates... ... that the folks at Criterion are racists--Kiarostami has just made his most sophisticated film but it's not "Iranian" enough. That's gross.

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Alejandro Adams just Tweeted:

Criterion's "brand value" was shot the minute they got in bed with IFC. The Dunham pickup is icing. The Certified Copy snub demonstrates... ... that the folks at Criterion are racists--Kiarostami has just made his most sophisticated film but it's not "Iranian" enough. That's gross.

Did I miss something? Criterion has "snubbed" a movie that's still in theaters? Doesn't the label sometimes pick up titles after their initial video release on other labels?

As for Dunham, is Criterion releasing Tiny Furniture? It's a real favorite in these parts! :)

EDIT: OK, I just went to that fella's Twitter page, at which I found this:

Of the Tiny Furniture Criterion thing I said: "That makes me want to give up." SMV: "No, it just proves there's no order in the universe."

Was this guy alive when Criterion released Michael Bay films on laserdisc?

Edited by Christian

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I've been looking around for more on whether it's true that Criterion passed on Certified Copy. Found this:

Thanks to The CriterionCast, we’ve gotten wind of a recent conversation that a user on these forums had with IFC President Jonathan Sehring following a recent screening of Werner Herzog’s CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS, and ultimately found out news on a few possible upcoming releases.

First, and most interestingly, according to this report, Criterion’s own Peter Becker found Abbas Kiarostami’s latest film, CERTIFIED COPY, to be “minor Kiarostami,” ultimately meaning that the film will not be getting it’s day in the Collection. One film that will be? Lena Dunham’s fantastic debut feature, TINY FURNITURE. Also mentioned here are Errol Morris films THE GATES OF HEAVEN, VERNON, FLORIDA, and THE THIND BLUE LINE. Criterion will also be releasing Herzog’s aforementioned DREAMS, and possibly 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS, with the capper here being Wim Wenders’ 3D dance flick, PINA. Talk about a lineup.

Now, it goes without saying that this is still very much a rumor. The fact that Becker went out of his way to say “minor Kiarostami” is really bizarre, at least given the film’s buzz at this point. It has been talked about joining the collection for quite some time, so at this point, take this with a grain of salt. That said, a lot of these films seem like relative locks. Outside of COPY, don’t be shocked if this list comes to fruition in some way down the line. I’m particularly most excited about films like 4 MONTHS and TINY FURNITURE, both films I absolutely adore. Fingers are definitely crossed for this one.

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