Caroline Eliacheff and Abbas Kiarostami, 2010
#4, 2011 Skandies
I put the question marks in because it was clear that these were moments when question marks were supposed to appear over our heads, but one of the things that astonished me when I started reading articles about this movie is that apparently there was a fair amount of debate about what was really happening in it. Were these two in fact a separated couple who had started off pretending not to know each other at first, in an attempt to reboot their relationship? Or was it the other way around: were they on a first date, and acting the roles of a long-married couple as an odd form of courtship? Or, as one particularly inventive theory proposed, was this a science fiction story in which time flows differently, so that much as Synecdoche, New York shows the seasons whipping by over the course of a single afternoon, here we see an entire relationship unfold, from infatuation to rancor to nostalgia, in one day? But to me, the answer was pretty obvious. What was really happening in this movie? Nothing was really happening in this movie. It's a movie. Movies aren't real. While we are trying to piece together the backstory of this one, the filmmakers are changing it on us, which they can do, because it isn't real. And by making the scramble to figure out what's going on more frustrating than usual, they draw our attention to the fact that making viewers chase after breadcrumbs of information is always an artifice. Certified Copy is a meditation on long-term relationships, and a character study, and even has some things to say about originality in art, but above all else, it's a postmodern storytelling exercise. And in this case, I actually mean that as a recommendation. I don't know whether this is a point the filmmakers were actually aiming to make, but their stunt highlights just how often we see two characters interacting and don't know whether they're spouses or siblings or co-workers or what — not because it's useful to withhold that information, but because the medium is hamstrung by the convention that we have to pretend we're just peeking in on a bunch of people in the middle of going about their lives. It's worthwhile to be reminded that, y'know, we're not — that it actually is up to the filmmakers whether we will spend the opening scenes of a movie distracted by our scramble to figure out who the characters are, or whether we'll be able to focus on what they're saying and doing.