Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases or premieres, or occasionally our own inscrutable whims. This week: As a new Juliette Binoche movie, Let The Sunshine In, begins its theatrical run in the States, we remember other highlights from the career of this world-class actor.
The cognitive dissonance arrives around the midway mark of Certified Copy, the final masterpiece by the late Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami. Up until this key scene, the film has operated fairly straightforwardly, as a funny, heady two-hander about strangers who meet and then spend a day together in Tuscany. He (William Shimell) is a British writer, in town to promote a new book built around a radical notion—namely, that reproductions of famous artworks are as valuable as the real thing because all art is essentially imitative, either of other work or of life itself. She (Juliette Binoche) is a French antiques dealer who agrees to accompany this minor celebrity on a sightseeing excursion. Over the course of a long, scenic drive, the two argue and flirt and challenge each other’s assumptions, playing out a feature-length conversation with plenty of its own antecedents, from Kiarostami’s earlier road pictures (is there a filmmaker who’s set more movies in a front seat?) to the lightly philosophical gabfests of Roberto Rossellini and Richard Linklater. Then the two are mistaken for a married couple and immediately begin to act the part, until their “performance” becomes so convincing that one has to wonder when this role-playing between supposed strangers really began.
So what’s the true nature of the relationship? The literal-minded might agonize over the question, but Certified Copy, with its frames-within-frames and endless reflective surfaces, is more of a Rorschach test than a puzzle waiting to be solved. Kiarostami, a tireless experimenter who spent most of his career blurring the lines separating fiction from nonfiction and cinema from reality, uses this enigma of a romance to test the thesis of the book within his movie; the fact that it’s impossible to tell which of the duo’s interactions are “authentic” is key. Far from an airless academic exercise, Certified Copy relies on its leads to lay a flabbergasting and essential emotional foundation. Shimell, a professional opera singer making his acting debut, generates the perfect air of removed sophistication—he’s as unreadable as he needs to be. But it’s Binoche, in one of the greatest performances of a peerless career, who animates and grounds the film’s big ideas. By closely studying her expressive features, mirrored back at her during a late-film close-up, Kiarostami makes the best case for the value of masquerade—and more specifically, for cinema and acting, which at their best can be as truthful as true life. When the feelings are this convincingly, movingly expressed, does it matter if they’re “real”?
Availability: Certified Copy is available to stream on Amazon Instant Video. It can also be obtained on DVD or Blu-ray from Netflix, Amazon, or possibly your local video store/library.