I have to laugh at the constant use of the word "pretentious" on this site in relation to films which are challenging thematically and which do not engage all viewers. These reviewers use it in place of the word 'boring' because, I suppose, they feel that labelling it as merely boring suggests they have difficulty understanding it or engaging with it, when in fact that's their criticism.
It's a miss representation of both the correct meaning of that word and what this film achieves. This film is not pretentious, it is exactly what it purports to be - an examination of a relationship in terms of reality and perception. A conversation examining the value of copies within our lives. It is also unmistakably a Kiarostami film. It's not for everybody.
A French woman (Binoche) attends a lecture from a British author, James Miller (Shimell). Miller has just published a book on the subject of copies in the art world. She leaves the lecture early, but not before leaving her number for the author. The next day he calls to her gallery and the pair travel to Luciagno on what seems at first like a date.
As the day progresses and the pair discuss his book and argue about the validity of copies versus originals, a complicity between them emerges. Perhaps they know each other quite well. perhaps this is not a first date. In a café a waitress mistakes them for a married couple and they decide to play along. However this game seems to get out of hand as they assume the roles of a couple who have been married for 15 years. Or do they. Perhaps they are or were married...
Kiarostami skillfully weaves his tale around these two characters while examining his central theme that nothing is really original and that we all assume roles in our lives. This is a recall of the themes he masterfully examined in Close Up.
At first sight the film may seem like an almost clichéd European art film, but it is in fact a version or copy of one, this is examined in a startling scene where the couple argue about the aesthetic value of a fountain. (Which is not real and was only placed there for the film). She loves it he doesn't. He finds it clichéd and ornate, while she has a very personal and sentimental reaction to it, much like many viewers are having to the film. However, Kiarostami is keen to ensure that it's clear that her perception is no less important or correct than his. Hers may be an emotional reaction, but it is a perfectly legitimate one. This film is not called Certified Copy' for nothing, it's Kiarostami's copy of a European art film, but is it any less valuable than the originals? Of course not. It exists in and of itself, independently of the 'original'.
Kiarostami's film is very open ended. It never really explains the relationship between the two, which will exasperate audiences looking for a clear resolution. However, while people may come to different decisions as to the truth all the ingredients necessary are there.
My interpretation is that they are not married, nor are they strangers, I believe that she is his mistress of 15 years and she longs to be his wife, while he is somewhat indifferent to her and probably has a wife. Their relationship is a 'copy' of a marriage without the legitimacy afforded to the other brides who appear regularly throughout the film. Kiarostami's film makes it clear that although she is 'only' the mistress, her feelings are legitimate.
Kiarostami's film looks beautiful and uses it's location to great effect, without becoming a postcard travelogue. His usual visual tropes are all present from the long, unbroken takes to the direct to camera acting. In his first screen role William Shimell gives a solid and believable performance as the pompous and emotionally distant English man, while Binoche in her Cannes Best Actress winning role is a revelation. Her character is a mess of emotions and Binoche performs them with sheer skill. At times one can see that she is portraying her character as portraying these emotions and this acts to add depth to the concept of copies and reality. A brave and thoughtful performance.
Certified Copy is not for everyone. To really 'get' the film one must fully engage in their discussion of some abstract and philosophical themes and in that respect the film may be more enjoyable in retrospect or on second viewing (I need to see it again!). However, for those who submit to it, it's a rich and rewarding cinematic diversion from the Iranian master of illusion.