“I’m afraid there’s nothing very simple about being simple”
Any lovers of Jesse and Celine need to see Copie conforme [Certified Copy]. Think of Abbas Kiarostami‘s film as an alternate Before Sunset if its two lovers from different countries stayed together, got married, and had a child instead of losing touch like they did after the end of Before Sunrise. Philosophical discussions occur, opinions about the validity of art are shared, and the authenticity of love comes into question. The title also comes into play early and often with the concept of copies against originals begging you to understand which you value more in terms of expression and emotion. Is the idea of a unique vision truly worth more than what you feel when looking its representation? Everything is a copy in the end anyway—an original portrait still not the person it depicts. At what point does romanticism takeover and reality disappear?
With that we’re introduced to an unknown Frenchwoman credited as Elle (Juliette Binoche) and a British writer on tour with his latest book named James Miller (William Shimell). Taking place in Italy—she residing with her son and he returning to the place that inspired his writing the book Certified Copy in the first place—we soon discover his pragmatism and her idealism. He writes and speaks about how wonderful it must be to simply accept the fact the Mona Lisa behind glass at the Louvre and reprinted in art books each hold the same meaning. It’s the idea the painting cultivates—the resonate ability to enthrall and captivate—that we all appreciate and hold so dear. Why should who painted it matter if the facsimile is just as good as the original in capturing the essence which really only existed in Leonardo Da Vinci’s mind and the tip of his brush?
This goes against Elle’s viewpoint since her job as an antiques dealer makes her place monetary value on authentic artifacts and their replicas. Being immersed in Italy and surrounded by such riches must put things in a different light too. But it’s only one aspect of her mindset as we find out truths about these two characters to make us wonder how she can remain so optimistically sentimental. There is something about seeing the love of newlyweds smitten with infinite possibilities, golden trees of hope, and fountain sculptures of monsters portraying compassionate humanity with the delicate head of a lady resting on his shoulder that she cannot deny. She looks down at her sister for accepting simplicity and settling with the inferior yet I’d say it’s easier to cling to an idyllic dream than it is to open your eyes to a harsh reality full flaws that we must forgive.
This is where Kiarostami puts the idea of love on trial. Is love what we aspire to achieve or can it change and evolve for better or worse? Is it stupid to ruin our loves in search of an ideal or is trying to make it come true the smartest thing any of us can do? We all want things to work out in our favor and live our lives in a utopic vision of white picket fence, loving spouse, and happy child. But at what point does the Norman Rockwell canvas start to blur our vision and make us forget reality? What if love can only exist with a chasm separating both parties? Is a lesser love than the complete infatuation of a wedding night and honeymoon still love or merely a compromise and acceptance of a version copied often and degraded exponentially into a warped concept devoid of any resemblance to what the world is taught it should be?
These are the questions coursing through my mind even though none are explicitly asked. Some interactions and conversations Elle and James have aren’t even spoken but instead told with the knowing eyes and smiles of two people who must be more familiar than initially explained. Passages will go by with ambient sounds or off-screen words heard while actors whisper silent secrets into each other’s ears. Sometimes these passages remain unspoken but even the ones that aren’t circle back to the titular debate. We receive recounted whispers—copies through the prism of their orator and never the actual conversation to interpret ourselves. Life itself is an echo of miscommunications in a telephone game of distortion and mistruths. We believe what we want since no real definition can ever exist.
Certified Copy then becomes the living embodiment of a painting Binoche shows Shimell to enhance the opinion he states in his book. A well-known fake holding as much reverence as the original due to an oddly checkered past, it should prove his lack of sentimentality towards art but ends up expressing his malaise for a marriage he intellectually tells himself he’s a part of but emotionally couldn’t be farther away from. A pompous ass caring only for himself, it’s easy to side with Elle as a woman looking for more than the life handed her, but if we look closer we’ll see her own selfishness concealed beneath the pity she creates. On the surface they may be completely different people with opposing opinions of the world at large, but at their core they’re both humans on a quest for happiness.
But what is happiness? We easily dismiss it as the hapless result of children numb to the future horrors awaiting them yet praise the heady philosophers who say, “So what?” to topics like death due to enlightenment. Both seek enjoyment in the face of stressful frustration but we only give credence to the adults. Sometimes we must break free of societal constraints to live for ourselves but often one’s needs require another’s presence to succeed. When that someone refuses to comply, we retreat back to fantasy and fool ourselves happiness still lives in the big picture. We’ve bred a planet of depressive souls as a result and until we allow ourselves to be worthy above those around us, the concept of the ‘original’ will cease to be as our failed copies lead us farther astray from our true purpose. A sleepwalk of false hope replaces an authentic joy no one remembers existed.
[1 & 2] William Shimell as “James Miller” and Juliette Binoche as “She” in CERTIFIED COPY directed by Abbas Kiarostami. Photo Credit: Laurent Thurin Nal. An IFC Films release.
 Juliette Binoche as “She” in CERTIFIED COPY directed by Abbas Kiarostami.