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05/21/2010 03:19 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Kiarostami's "Certified Copy": Ambiguous Film at Cannes

Abbas Kiarostami's new film Certified Copy is ambiguously subtle--and here-in lies the pleasure. The story of a gallery owner (played charmingly by Juliette Binoche) and British author (William Shimell) who meet in Italy and "invent", in an ironic conversation in the Tuscan hills, a 15 year old marriage, it left Cannes viewers debating whether the couple was really married, or whether indeed their story is just a "copy."

And if it is just a copy, does it really matter--or what does this even mean? The film begins with discussions of art, as the couple stroll before paintings and sculptures. "Sometimes the copy is more true than the original," says the man character--perhaps a hint (copy?) at the film F for Fake.

Which means what?

The film gives you ample time to reflect, as it quietly pursues the man and woman's conversation in cars, hotels, galleries and countryside, each responding to the other in calm voices reminiscent of "Hiroshima Mon Amour" or "Voyage in Italy". Lively moments include the characteristic Kiarostami ramble in a car, as well as a laugh-out-loud chat with a boisterous trattoria owner. The conversation is sometimes about love---with a wedding of happy youngsters going on outside the restaurant window--or about art, as Juliette strokes a sculpture--and, towards the end, about all the gripes the woman has about this supposed 15 year old failed relationship. "You fell asleep after I had just made myself beautiful for you in the bathroom!"

If this narrative is a copy (i.e. of married life), might Kiarostami be suggesting that all male/female relations are predictable? The reserved man, the emotional woman---the lack of communication between them? The film seems a lyrical meditation on the stages along life's way, that go from wedding to estrangement.

A more charrged question: might there be something objectionable about recreating the stereotypical woman begging for acknowledgement and affection from a man---as more than one female spectator pointed out?

The "truth" of this copy is debatable.

Kiarostami--wearing his characteristic dark black sunglasses--responded as mysteriously as his film.

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"I think the way you can look at this film is that either it is a flashback fifteen years before or a flashbook fifteen years forward. It doesn't matter if it is a true story, if you see it is a theatrical representation, it works. The inspiration came from a true story that happened in Italy, but maybe the lady was involved in the story wouldn't recognize herself. It was a story personal to someone, either me or her."

Is your movie about love? Does talking about love make us fall in love?
Right in the beginning, the couple has this important theoretical discussion about the issue. They never mention love directly, but Juliette mentions her sister who loves her stammering husband and idealizes him. It was very important to have them start with this discussion, alluding to love. I don't know if it is the dialogue itself that makes them fall in love. We can fall in love out of conflict and differences or misunderstanding or because of the sound of waves.

Do you want your spectators to identify with your characters as universal man and woman?

Well, it's not a necessity. Maybe some people will see themselves, while others wouldn't identify with these quarrels. But I believe everyone's experience will make them relate to this lack of mutual understanding. Why doesn't Juliette have a name? I preferred her not to have a name, so any woman in the audience could identify with them. I wished the man would not have a name either, but he is an author.

Is Italy also a copy? We have the familiar Tuscan hills, the discussion of wine...

Italy is a full character in ths story. It has its own raison d'etre, its own presence, its own dialogues. I wanted Italy as a third character. Copy? William and Juliette are not copies. Neither is Italy . If they are copies, they have their own originality.

How is your film a copy of other films? Some have found its tone reminiscent of French new wave, or Woody Allen....

I think that you can never assert that a film is a copy of the other. It's not a pure copy. Work becomes perpetual; it takes place in a trend, in a wave. If you take the Impressionist period, you could say they are copying or you can say they were part of a trend. People have also said my film is a copy of Rossellini's Voyage in Italy or Igmar Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage . And others have also copied my films, but it's not copy, the film is always original. There is also a link between this film and my previous movie Sherin. If you understand this woman, you will understand the other woman.

Can you comment on the meaning of your last scene? The man is looking at himself in the mirror. What's happening?

He is not looking so much at himself but at the spectator. All I see in his face is that he is overwhelmed by what he sees. After this woman has exposed her emotions and soul, he cannot just leave her and he cannot stay easily either. He cannot be self-centered and narcissistic. Even if he is self-centered, being placed in a situation like this makes him feel. If Juliette touches you the spectator when she stammers Jjjjjjames, it cannot not have touched him as well.

What do you think of the power of cinema, copy or original?

I always believe that cinema has magic powers.

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