Friday, March 11, 2011

Movie with Abe: Certified Copy

Certified Copy
Directed by Abbas Kiarostami
Released March 11, 2011

There are some films which focus on plot, some films which focus on character, and some which focus on visuals, whether effects or backgrounds. And then there are those rare gems that carry themselves entirely on dialogue and performances. In “Certified Copy,” which takes its title from the name of a book about duplicated art, it’s all about the conversation that comes from a writer visiting Italy and the woman who serves as his tour guide. At times snappy and at others utterly enchanting, the writing of “Certified Copy” is matched only by the caliber of its two lead performances.

Elle (Juliette Binoche) leads James (William Shimell) on a whirlwind tour of some of Tuscany’s most beautiful and serene sights, and it’s fascinating to hear the two converse. Elle is French and James is British, and as they are in Tuscany and both possess a working understanding of the languages, they switch back and forth frequently between French, English, and Italian. In whatever language, their dialogue is absolutely enthralling, as they explore their relationship and let fantasy get the best of them, making the most of the short time they can spend together before James has to leave to go back home.

It takes a skilled thespian to be able to pull off speaking in multiple languages and making it believable. Christoph Waltz astounded with his mastery of German, English, French, and Italian in his Oscar-winning performance as Hans Landa in “Inglourious Basterds,” but there’s an important difference here. Unlike perfectionist show-off Landa, Elle and James don’t have a complete mastery of their chosen languages. Elle can pull off cordial, casual Italian, but the quiet way in which she speaks betrays that it’s not her native language. And James chooses his words carefully to ensure that, in Italian, and, to a lesser degree, French, he doesn’t accidentally go outside the boundaries of his known vocabulary.

Both Binoche and Shimell are entirely convincing as realistic multi-linguists, and that’s not where praise of their performances should stop. Given that most of the film features one-on-one conversations between the two of them, the film rests largely on their shoulders. Binoche delivers an extraordinarily natural, down-to-earth performance as an energetic woman eager to pick the brain of and show the city off to the esteemed author in her company. Shimell imbues James with the proper pompousness and faux modesty when in public and then brings it back down when he enters into a more intimate setting with Elle. The dialogue is smart, mysterious, and ultimately irresistible, and with these two actors at the helm, this film is a real treat.


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