JULIETTE, OH, JULIETTE; Abbas Kiarostami's Enigmatic Romance Confirms He Is One of Cinema's Greats -- but It's the Performance from Binoche That Gives It Real Heart; FILM OF THE WEEK

The Evening Standard (London, England), September 3, 2010 | Go to article overview

JULIETTE, OH, JULIETTE; Abbas Kiarostami's Enigmatic Romance Confirms He Is One of Cinema's Greats -- but It's the Performance from Binoche That Gives It Real Heart; FILM OF THE WEEK


Byline: David Sexton

CERTIFIED COPY Cert 12A, 107 mins ***

THE Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami is widely regarded as one of the greats of world cinema. He was born in 1940 and has been making movies for 40 years, until now all of them in Iran. His style is completely distinctive and about as far from Hollywood as it is possible to get. He uses long takes, few camera movements, child and untrained actors, and distant landscape views. Many scenes are filmed inside cars, which he regards as ideal moving rooms.

Certified Copy, filmed in Tuscany, near Arezzo, is Kiarostami's first European film. James Miller, an Englishman in his fifties, has come to Italy to give a talk about his book, Certified Copy, which argues against originality in art. He meets a French woman ("She", not named) who runs a gallery, selling mostly copies of antiques, and they drive out of town to spend the day together, talking volubly, visiting a museum, having a coffee in a bar, wandering around a square, having a badtempered late lunch, ending up in a hotel room. That's it.

At the beginning of their encounter, it seems clear the pair have never met before -- their conversation is that of new acquaintances. But after a sage old lady in the bar assumes that Miller is the woman's husband and they play up to the mistake, they gradually appear to be a couple of 15 years' standing -- and the hotel room where the film ends, bells tolling, may be where they spent their honeymoon. Are they just role-playing being an established couple as a form of courtship? Or was the role-play earlier, when they pretended not to know each other? It is impossible to be sure. Neither option quite makes sense or is psychologically convincing, and in a film that requires total faith in its people and their story that's an insurmountable problem. The idea is, no doubt, to make the pair Everyman and Everywoman, their one day representing all relationships. There's that underpinning idea that we mustn't just dismiss copies, even forgeries.

But the trick doesn't work -- the unresolved ambiguity makes the film itself feel empty. It's a strange turn for a director with such an impressive and distinctive body of work behind him to take. Perhaps he has tried too hard to adapt his style to European arthouse film? …

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