I've praised the film Certified Copy before. I believe that writer/director Abbas Kiarostami made a brilliant meditation on how we develop relationships. It's beautiful, it's sharply written, and the leading performances from Juliette Binoche and William Shimell are extraordinary. This week, Certified Copy finally came out on DVD and Blu-ray. The gray cover of the Criterion Collection is rather unappealing at first glance. It's a shame they chose that shade because the dull frame belies a really cool visual trick. The split image of Binoche and Shimell is a reflection of itself. If you know the film already, it comes from the scene where the pair are wandering through an art gallery, neither one exactly thrilled with the quality of the work. The cover is a great play on the conceit of the film, with the characters evaluating their own performances in the relationship that might not exist.
But obviously, you don't judge a book by the cover. The Criterion Collection has more than enough to keep a fan happy. The footage has been remastered with a newly mixed 5.1 surround sound presentation. There are special features like commentaries, interviews, and even a rare short from Kiarostami's early career.
Yet the coolest, must have feature of the Criterion Blu-ray is the essay included in the case. Godfrey Cheshire re-contextualizes Certified Copy as a reflection of Abbas Kiarostami's creative life. Though the director is no stranger to risks, something big had to motivate him to work entirely outside of Iran for the first time.
Cheshire proposes that the increased censorship and political action taken against filmmakers in Iran pushed Kiarostami to work outside of the country. The film confirms a deeper philosophical discussion of the value of art in society. Both characters take on the role of an oppressive force, fighting against the value of the other's view of art and refusing to relent on any points. Instead of opening a dialogue, they fabricate excuse after excuse to pretend that any issue is caused by the other person, not a fundamental disagreement on the role of art in the world.
Though I hadn't noticed the parallels before, Cheshire's argument is a compelling one. I think it overreaches just a bit when you take Juliette Binoche's original audition/interview into consideration. Kiarostami described the story of Certified Copy and then claimed everything had really happened to him. She responded with shock and he said he was lying. Then she tried to convince him that it was the truth but he wouldn't budge. Her reactions helped define her character in the film.
While politics can be applied to the story, I think the true art of the narrative is building narrative about creating art. You have no idea if anything you saw was true, yet it feels so real by the end that you have to believe it. Except you know for a fact that they made a lot of things up as they went along. Except for how you have no proof of that.
For all the bells and whistles on the Criterion Collection Blu-ray, this essay--accompanied by lovely stills intentionally split in half from the film--will mostly likely be what causes me to pull Certified Copy off the shelf again and again. The film is great on its own. The essay and the added features open it up for further analysis. It's an ambiguous story that might be more open than I ever imagined on first viewing.
So will you be picking up Certified Copy? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the film. Share them below.