Abbas Kiarostami was one of cinema’s quietest adventurers. He asked hard questions and answered them effortlessly. Can you make a film that expresses the innocence and fidelity of childhood? Yes, just look at Where is the Friend’s House. Can you make a meta documentary that tells a true story in a way that cannot seem real? Yes, Kiarostami did so in Close-Up. There seemed to be no task he could not accomplish with technical brilliance and rich humanity.
Kiarostami undertook a more conventionally adventurous pursuit by making a film outside of his home country. He is from Iran, but in 2010 Kiarostami directed the Tuscany-set Certified Copy. Instead of making a heart-pumping film that took advantage of its locations as John Huston or James Cameron might have done, he made a quietly meditative look at an unnamed French woman who begins a strangely shifting relationship with a British author.
We first see that British author, James Miller, lecture about originality. Later, the unnamed French woman will say that “without the existence of copies, we wouldn’t understand originals.” There are plenty of films to which Certified Copy seems to be, if not quite copying, paying homage. At times the film feels like Kiarostami is riffing off of Richard Linklater’s Before movies, which also featured a couple talking and walking around beautiful European landscapes. My Night at Maud’s might be an influence because of its long scenes of a man conversing with a mysteriously flirtatious woman. Even the central twist feels like something that would belong in a cozier version of Persona.
But Kiarostami brings a patience and mysticism to the the film that make it feel original. He is better than most directors at letting scenes go on for a long time for character development, which also gives the film a greater texture. The film’s metaphysics and openness to the existence of other realities feel straightforward, even though such subject matter could easily have seemed complicated.
Two years after his death, Kiarostami’s work continues to confound and delight those who encounter it. This is especially true of the ethereal Certified Copy. Its content is endlessly debatable, but its style is beautiful and enjoyable for the most discerning of viewers. If nothing else, it features Kiarostami bringing his unique viewpoint to an intriguing story in order to create a strikingly original film that is worth seeing multiple times so as to gain a greater understanding of it.
Jesse Pasternack is a senior at Indiana University and the co-president of the Indiana Student Cinema Guild. He writes about film, television, and pop culture for the Indiana Daily Student. Jesse is a moderator at Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival and a friend of the Doug Loves Movies podcast. He has directed six short films.