Copy that: Copie Conforme

Published: February 16, 2011

When I discovered that Abbas Kiarostami, one of my favourite Iranian directors, had directed a non-Iranian film, I was very excited, but at the same time full of dread. You see, I’ve been scarred by the painful experience of Wong Kar Wai’s My Blueberry Nights, the first non-Chinese film by a director whom I greatly admire. The film was a complete disaster, and thus my expectations of Copie Conforme (Certified Copy) were tainted by the trauma of that disappointment. My apologies, Mr Kiarostami, for ever doubting you…

This excellent film, starring Julliette Binoche as the volatile French single mother Elle, and William Shimell as the English writer James Miller, is beautifully shot in Tuscany and features dialogue in French, Italian and English. Miller is in Italy promoting his new book, titled Copie Conforme, when he meets Elle, who offers to give him a tour of a village called Lucignano. Now Tuscany is the land of Dante Alighieri, Botticelli, Michelangelo and da Vinci, and the thesis of Miller’s book is that a copy of a work of art is just as much a work of art as the original. As the pair debate the idea of a fake being equivalent to the original itself, they themselves begin playing out a fake relationship. Knowing Kiarostami, the genius behind movies like The Wind Will Carry Us and A Taste of Cherry, is also commenting on how every relationship, and in fact everything we see in cinema is actually fake.

One of the most remarkable elements of the film is its pace. The director truly lets moments linger, allowing the audience to think about what is happening. And what is happening is quite intense. The characters in Copie Conforme are certainly not afraid of confrontation; they are driven by strong feelings and opinions. The pauses in Copie Conforme let us see, as the movie is indeed a visual feast. Veteran Italian cinematographer Luca Bigazzi has shown Tuscany as perhaps only an Italian could have, with images so rich that they saturate our senses. Great attention has also been given to colour, there is a predominant faded rosiness, a lot like the paintings by some of the masters of Tuscany themselves. And the way much of the dialogue has been shot, with the lead actors addressing the camera directly, one could say that Binoche and Shimell are also in a fake relationship with the audience.

Somewhere along the way, it becomes kind of confusing whether Miller is indeed Elle’s estranged ex-husband or not. Their fake relationship goes in directions where many unfortunate real relationships go, and because so much of their role-playing is based on truths, the line between reality and fantasy starts to blur. Such moments often make the best cinema, because after all, the construct behind the fantasy in films is also reality. Although this film moves relatively slowly compared to average Hollywood fare, it engages the audience philosophically and emotionally, and on those levels, Copie Conforme is nothing short of a rollercoaster ride.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, February 13th, 2011.

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