Certified Copy, Abbas Kiarostami, 106 mins, (12A)

Against a Tuscan backdrop and performed in three languages by an opera singer and Juliette Binoche, this romance has edge

Set in Tuscany, Certified Copy is a comedy of manners starring a French actress and an English opera singer, with dialogue in English, French and Italian.

It isn't what you expect from Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, but then, he has a habit of defying expectations: his last film, Shirin, was entirely composed of close-ups of women's faces.

In Certified Copy, Kiarostami – working outside Iran for the first time – seems to have opted for something rather safer: a polished Italian art film. But Certified Copy isn't quite what it seems – although I won't overwork that turn of phrase, given that the film makes slightly heavy weather of the importance of not trusting appearances. The film is ostensibly about fakery and authenticity – the subjects of a book by an English writer, James Miller (William Shimell), who argues that copies are every bit as good as the "real thing". Miller is in Tuscany to launch the Italian edition of his book – in other words, itself a copy of his English original.

The next day, Miller ends up joining an unnamed woman (Juliette Binoche), apparently a stranger, on a trip to a small town called Lucignano. En route, the pair awkwardly exchange vague theoretical chat about the question of authenticity – Jasper Johns, Coke bottles and so forth, all with a distinct whiff of Year 1 Aesthetics about it. Of more interest is the woman's strange flirtatious twitchiness, the way that she seems forever tremulously hovering on the edge of intense upset – emotional nuances apparently lost on the laconic Englishman.

Then a café owner assumes that the pair are married, and the woman decides to play along with the mistake. Suddenly, there's a strange shift: the pair start talking as if they really were a couple going through the throes of a difficult marriage. Seeing the happy newly-weds who throng Lucignano, Miller grumbles cantankerously about the horrors that wedlock has in store for all these unknowing fools.

So, just who are this oddly matched duo? New acquaintances acting out a charade, a bizarre and perverse courtship dance? A gauche intellectual and a disturbed, manipulative fan? A jaded couple involved in elaborate role play, pretending to be a couple involved in elaborate role play? All these possibilities, and others besides, are equally valid – and with, for the most part, a very light touch, Kiarostami gets us hooked by a situation that could easily seem rarefied and academic.

There is, to be honest, a certain creakiness to the film, especially in the dialogue (and especially in the English) translated from Kiarostami's original script. But language is hardly likely to be friction-free in a film about characters struggling to connect in tongues not their own. More than the question of copies and originals, the film's real subject is the eternal problem of communication, especially between the sexes: in other words, men are from Mars, women are from Venus.

The argument may well, in the end, boil down to something as banal as that, but there's a subtlety in the execution that is pure Kiarostami. There isn't an ounce of excess weight in the direction: the film is shot by Luca Bigazzi with an economic precision that sets a very particular minimalist tone. The effect is to make this slender vignette into something like a Henry James short story written according to Kafka dream logic.

As for as the acting, Binoche is magnificent, but can be roundly infuriating – always mercurially shifting the emotional gears, at times in an overtly actressy way. But then this is a performance about performance: her nameless woman comes across as someone who's as much a set of shifting parameters as she is a person. As for Shimell, an operatic baritone taking on his first straight acting role, he registers very convincingly as a dry, rather narcissistic highbrow who's out of his depth and, by the end, amusingly out of patience. If there's no obvious chemistry between the characters, that too makes sense within the terms of the film: if even these two aren't sure they're a couple, why should we expect them to seem a natural fit? The film may well infuriate you, but anyone who's ever been in a long relationship – or watched in horror as other people acted out the complications of theirs – will recognise some of the face-offs that are dramatised here.

Admittedly, Certified Copy comes across a little too neatly like a handsome, high- to middle-brow bourgeois European art film. Then again, it looks and feels entirely like Kiarostami. It's about reality and fakery, a favourite theme; it features his trademark in-car conversations; and the Tuscan hillsides uncannily resemble the Iranian ones seen in his great landscape film The Wind Will Carry Us. In fact, I'm not sure what this resembles more: an Italian film-maker doing a Kiarostami, or Kiarostami's forgery of an Italian film-maker's copy of a Kiarostami. Either way, it's certifiably fascinating.

Next Week:

Jonathan Romney revisits the original dystopian city as Fritz Lang's legendary Metropolis is restored to its lost glory

Also Showing: 05/09/2010

Demetrios Matheou

The Last Exorcism (87 mins, 15)

The Last Exorcism combines two sub-genres of horror: the exorcism film, and the first-person/found footage movie pioneered by The Blair Witch Project and seen recently in [Rec] and Paranormal Activity. A documentary team is making a feature on an evangelical minister, who has lost his faith and wants to expose the church's lucrative trade in fake exorcisms. He takes the crew on his latest assignment, a girl in Louisiana whose father is convinced she's possessed (played by Ashley Bell, above). But when the Reverend employs his usual box of tricks – smoking crucifixes, a special demon mix tape – he finds that, this time, he is the only hoaxer in the room. This starts well, slowly building serious chills as the minister is forced to regain his belief. But it falls apart in its final reel, as if the obvious twist was not enough for the film-makers, and in seeking an alternative they lose their way. The outcome is a surprise, but also a cop-out.

Soul Boy (83 mins, 15)

There is a sweetly old-fashioned feel to this celebration of Northern Soul in its Seventies heyday – with a little bit of Carry On, a dash of Confessions, and a flash of the angry young Albert Finney in Martin Compston's performance as a bit of rough who finds love and self-expression on the dance floor of the legendary Wigan Casino. Yes, Wigan was cool once. A modest, but endearing paean to an era not just of Jackie Wilson and Yvonne Baker, but Mr Whippy and the Adidas bag.

Jonah Hex (81 mins, 15)

A seriously below-par comic book adaptation, this stars Josh Brolin as the American civil war veteran turned bounty hunter, out to avenge the murder of his family by evil John Malkovich. Megan Fox provides air-brushed allure, but the scripting and direction are dreadful. Just like its hero's mutilated face, this feels as though a whole chunk has gone missing.

22 Bullets (118 mins, 18)

Jean Reno's calibre masks the void at the heart of this French mafia movie, a violent revenge tale as facile as it is glossily efficient.

Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
    The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015