More psychological than emotional, Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy is a well crafted debate between a man and a woman that’s both fascinating and irritating. Graced with two solid performances by Juliette Binoche and William Shimmel, Tuscany as a backdrop, Kiarostami posts some tough questions about what we see as real, without providing any definitive answers.

William Shimmel plays James Miller, English author whose latest book, Certified Copy forms the basis for the film. His book examines the various examples of copied artwork and surmises that a copy is just as imperative as the original. If you’re told the copy is the original and have already placed some value on it, does it make it any less important than the actual original?

Juliette Binoche’s character is referred to simply as “She,” throughout the film. A French single mother, she turns up at press conference where James Miller is explaining his theory. While there, she leaves a note for him suggesting they meet later at her curio shop. Later, the two decide to take a ride out to the small town of Lucignano. While they drive, the couple has a wide-ranging, occasionally flirtatious conversation. Watching them discuss everything from art to love, it’s easy to think we’re watching the formation of a personal relationship. However, as the story develops, we begin to wonder if that’s what we’re really watching.

Certified CopyDo these people already know each other? Is this all just some elaborate game? When a waitress mistakenly refers to them as husband and wife in a café, this somewhat playful idea seems to grow into something more real, though Kiarostami doesn’t draw any lines between fact and fiction. He draws us into the continuing drama with long takes and leisurely pacing. The camera follows Shimmel and Binoche through the streets, in and out of café’s churches and hotels. We watch as “She goes through a gamut of emotions—happiness, sadness, anger—wondering, what is going on?

We are watching a couple play out the roles of many couples before them. This is to say they know each other and they don’t know each other. Certified Copy examines one moment at a time, and moves on to the next. In a sense, Juliette Binoche and William Shimmel represent every couple; this is Kiarostami’s attempt at a truly universal love story.

Juliette Binoche, who won Best Actress honors at Cannes, oozes sensuality without betraying her role as a single mother. Along the way, she has many moments of introspection that may feel very close to home for some viewers. William Shimmel, an opera singer in his first film role, is clearly overmatched, but still manages to make James Miller a captivating enigma. It helps matters that Binoche and Shimmel have undeniable chemistry; so much so, that we almost begin to believe that they are a married couple in crisis. Adrian Moore is believable as her annoying, bratty son, and Jean-Claude Carriere shares a memorable moment with James about how to repair his relationship. Gianna Giachetti plays a café owner who offers her own world weary thoughts on relationships.

Framed in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, Criterion has done a fairly good job with this transfer. Certified Copy is wonderfully detailed throughout. While you will notice some less than perfect contrast, and a bit of softness on occasion, the films digital origins have been preserved, making everything, including skin tones, appear as it should.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix serves the film very well. Dialogue has been recorded well, and placed in the center channels. Ambiance sounds such as street noise can be heard in the rears.

English and English SDH subtitles are available.

The disc has a nice slate of special features:

  • The Report (1977) (110 min, 1080p) – a rare Abbas Kiarostami’s film about a tax collector who faces a number of dilemmas at work and at home. According to Criterion, the film was encoded from the only surviving element available: an old analog video master made from a subtitled theatrical print that was damaged from heavy use. According to director Abbas Kiarostami, the original negative was destroyed during the Iranian Revolution.
  • Abbas Kiarostami (16 min, 1080p) – in this exclusive video interview, the director discusses the inspiration behind Certified Copy, the complex relationship between the two characters, and his relationship with Juliette Binoche before and during the shooting of the film, etc. The interview was recorded in Paris in 2012.
  • Let’s See “Copia conforme” (53 min, 1080i) – In this documentary, we get interviews with director Abbas Kiarostami and actors Juliette Binoche and William Shimell, as well as plenty of raw footage from the film.
  • Trailer (2 min, 1080p) – The original theatrical trailer.
  • Booklet – A 22-page booklet, featuring an essay by film critic Godfrey Cheshire.