Certified Copy shouldn’t work. The sum just can’t be greater than its constituent parts. It shouldn’t even get out of the starting gate, let alone get off the ground.
We all have our preconceptions and prejudices going into certain films, and for my sins I can’t shake off a certain sniffiness about both Juliet Binoche and the cloyingly middle-aged, middle-class francophone (af)fair she’s unremmitingly tied to. I’m unjustly throwing her in with recent films like Leaving and The Father of My Children, where the trailers haven’t sold me on the film being anything more than the same old document of French folk, their existential ennui and the ineventiable infidelity which follows.
On the surface at least, Certified Copy seemed to be clanging this cliché both loud and proud, but despite veering off in said direction the film rather deftly skims the surface of the matter, and manages to remain compelling throughout.
In brief: Anxious Mother of One pursues visiting Silver-Haired Scholar, who indulges her doting fan-boyism by agreeing to meet her privately the next day. Awkward introductions lead to an escape to the beautiful Tuscan landscape they happen to be surrounded by. Cue a seemingly never-ending series of unflinching shot/reverse-shot discussions on love/life/art, and the meaning of ‘it all.’
Synopsised the film sounds absolutely agonising, but Binoche is well met by the breezy William Shimell, a renowned baritone making his screen debut. Their nascent if unsure connection skips over the awkwardness and dives straight into the failures of their own personal relationships, without respite hitting the guaranteed dead-weight topics of love, marriage and everything inbetween.
Breaking for a coffee Shimell gets mistaken by a local for Binoche’s husband, and distanced from the overly critical Italians this new/old pairing carry on the pretence before gliding defty into some rather heavy and shouty domestics. They argue like a married couple of 20+ years, the confidence and assumption of a twinkling love turned into a pitch black bitterness wondering where it all went. You sit expecting someone to snap out of the charade, to call shenanigans on the whole thing. But they don’t, and somehow I got carried along with it all.
I know others in my company weren’t quite as sold on it, but I don’t know how, or even why, but somehow inspite of myself, and inspite of itself, Certified Copy managed to completely hook me in. Maybe I’m just a sucker for walking-and-talking romances, the intimate-stranger dynamic we’ve seen trodden so thoroughly in Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. Maybe it’s the bizarre to-fro, push-pull dynamic between Binoche and Shimell which keeps the film afloat.
It’s just another French infidelty drama, of sorts. On paper it shouldn’t work, but somehow it does, and that alone makes it a little bit of brilliant.
Four out of Five.
Certified Copy is showing at the Showroom cinema in Sheffield from the 3rd of September 2010