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There is a long and not entirely distinguished history of pop stars turning their hand to acting in the movies. From Elvis to Madonna and Michael Jackson to Iggy Pop many an icon seems to have had a budding cinema star inside them just itching to get out. So there is no reason why an opera singer should not have a crack at film acting too. Essex born William Shimell, who makes his non-musical debut in ‘Certified Copy,’ already has an esteemed career giving dramatic performances through the medium of song, His rich baritone voice and dashing looks certainly help to give him a presence on the big screen.
Shimell plays James Miller, a writer on tour in Italy promoting his latest book of art theory. When he stops off in Tuscany one of Miller’s lectures is attended by a gallery owner (Juliette Binoche) and her blatantly disinterested son. Binoche’s role is billed merely as ‘she,’ an early example of the film’s playful ambiguity but by no means its last. She invites Miller to visit her gallery but the place makes him feel claustrophobic so the pair venture out into the nearby small town of Lucignano.
Binoche’s character appears to be a fan, asking Miller to sign several copies of his tome as gifts for friends. The duo stroll the town’s streets discussing art and life as they visit churches and museums, drop in on a wedding and stop at a café for refreshment. Miller is a free spirit who believes in enjoying life while you still can. She is more of a realist, possibly due to having been left to bring up her son alone.
In truth, not a great deal happens in the film, at least nothing all that obvious. The pair seem to have little in common but there could be a spark there somewhere. So are we watching the start of a romance or is there a bigger picture which is not being shown to us? The clue is in the fact that Miller’s book, which shares its decidedly un-sexy title with the film, is all about our perception of art and the affect that the act of observation has on the viewer from a physiological perspective. In ‘Certified Copy’ appearances are most certainly deceptive.
This is probably not a film which will excite the interest of a general audience. The dialogue is esoteric at times, largely an ongoing exchange of opinions between the two principals. ‘Certified Copy’ is the type of film where an elderly café owner will cease working to expound her ideas on what women desire from men before going back to serving up cappuccinos. The film is directed by the acclaimed Iranian film-maker Abbas Kiarostami , a man who is happy to stick with a scene long after other directors might have packed up and moved on.
A good example is where Miller and ’She’ are driving through the Tuscan countryside. Whereas the obvious option would be to treat this moment as an opportunity for some lovely scenic footage, Kiarostami’s camera stays with the actors. The landscape is glimpsed through the side windows and appears as a fractured reflection on the car windscreen but the focus remains on the characters which, after all, is what the film is interested in. Only when Miller asks his companion to look out and admire the view do we get a conventional exterior shot.
Make no mistake, ’Certified Copy’ is the work of a master and even if you find it a little perplexing at first then it is still worth persevering. From a purely visual point of view this is a delightful film with much to please the eye. The lighting is wonderful and the shots are composed with remarkable attention to detail and some charming little tricks along the way.
The two lead characters seem initially hard to know but as we learn more about them and they gradually unravel before us they gain our sympathies. Shimell does pretty well in his role although I found him more convincing when pontificating on art then when expressing his emotions.
To be fair, even a more seasoned actor might have trouble trying to keep up with Juliette Binoche who is amazing in a part which won her the best actress award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. In ‘Certified Copy’ she is at her very best in the scenes where she displays a painful fragility. Simply through the temporary adoption of a stutter ( it’s a long story) she manages to convey a wealth of meaning. Depardieu be damned, La Binoche has everything.
Directed by: Abbas Kiarostami
Starring: Juliette Binoche, Jean-Claude Carrière, William Shimell.
Run time: 106 min