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August 12, 2013

Copie conforme

by Franz Patrick


Copie conforme (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

While James Miller (William Shimell) delivers a lecture for his new book about art, a woman (Juliette Binoche), unnamed throughout the film, gives her telephone number to one of James’ friends, to be given to him after the lecture, on the off chance he wants to grab coffee and discuss his novel one-on-one. Later, James meets up with the mysterious woman in her underground gallery and they eventually decide to take a walk around the Southern Tuscany village.

Written and directed by Abbas Kiarostami, the thesis of a “Certified Copy,” the same as the message in our male protagonist’s book, is that a copy is as good as the original. As the strangers discuss the subject of art through nature and manmade architecture, while driving and walking, respectively, the writer-director throws in clues that hint at the possibility that the two of figures on screen, who we naturally assume to be strangers, have known each other for years.

A key scene involves a coffee shop owner (Gianna Giachetti) identifying the strangers as a couple going through deeply-rooted marital problems. There are research studies that support the idea that some people who do not know us personally, especially those of a certain age, have the ability to read strangers with enough clarity through body language. While it is easy to jump to the conclusion that James and the stranger are husband and wife, I think doing so does the writing a disservice.

They are written smart and self-aware. During their first moments of interaction, it appears as though the woman yearns for meaning, almost obsessively, though we do not know exactly of what nature. Casting Binoche is a excellent decision because she has the gift of communicating her characters’ interior lives through only her eyes. Here, she hides her character’s sadness just a little–but more than enough for us to ask questions. She feels detached from her son and wishes to remedy it. However, when they walk toward the same destination, why does she choose to walk several feet ahead instead next to him and making an active attempt to make a connection through conversation?

The woman takes comfort in the book, buying at least six–supposedly for her sister and friends, and James takes notice of it. Despite the fact that, during the second half, the woman and the author discuss the many challenges in their marriage, like he not noticing her efforts of primping herself up even for just a simple dinner, it is very possible that it is all a game of pretend. It is important to consider that James is acting like a reporter by engaging with his subject through her sadness. One can make an argument that by pretending to be different people in public, the man and the woman feel a sense of freedom.

Furthermore, the movie is interested in rules. For example, the characters’ upper bodies are consistently in front of frames. The windows and doors have certain shapes, usually a square or a rectangle, and there are rules that define such shapes. The script also mentions the characters’ habits like how James only shaves every other day.

Also known as “Copie conforme,” the film is intriguing and challenging because it is not so much about the answers than it is about possibilities. Not only does it dare us to gauge our ability when it comes to reading other persons it also measures our patience toward people we do not know or might not want to know.

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