Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Certified Copy (2010)


I became interested in Iranian cinema in the late 1990s and early 2000s – arguably its greatest period. I was immediately impressed by the diversity of Iranian film makers who had such distinct styles and themes – Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Jafar Panahi, Samira Makhmalbaf, Bahamn Ghobadi  Rakhshan Bani-Temad etc.

In 2014 I watched in chronological order Kiarostami’s 1990 – 2012 features (with the exception of Life and Nothing More). It was fascinating to watch his style develop. More recently I have watched The Experience (1973) and First Case, Second Case (1979).

In 1977 Abbas Kiarostami made The Report (included on the Criterion Certified Copy release thanks to the efforts of Godfrey Cheshire) which explores the breakdown of a marriage. This was a very personal film for Kiarostami - he had just divorced his wife. Godfrey Cheshire commented that through discussions with Kiarostami he was left with the view that the film-maker very much wanted to re-visit the issue of marriage that he had explored in The Report.

The post-1979 regulations in Iran concerning the portrayal of male-female relationships  meant that  Kiarostami would wait until 2009, when he produced a film in Italy with an international cast, to once again explore a male-female relationship.

The Islamic Revolution in Iran was a movement to overthrow the existing monarchy (The Shah) and it began in late 1977 as a campaign of civil resistance which resulted in the Shah fleeing Iran in January 1979. The Shah was pro-Western (United States was traditionally an ally) and an increasingly oppressive regime. When the economy began to experience turbulence this contributed to the feeling of unrest. There was a growing discourse in Iran that attacked the Westernisation of the country.

Ruhollah Khomeini was an opponent of the Shah regime and lived in exile from 1965-1979. He was a leading Shia Muslim scholar and he waged a propaganda war against the Shah from exile and he became something of a legend in Iran. He was invited to return to Iran in early 1979 and he became supreme leader after the national referendum in April 1979 chose an Islamic Republic.

The Islamic Republic targeted cinema as it was deemed to have a corruptive Western influence. The Khomeini dictatorship sought to control the content of cinema and so established the Farabi Cinema Foundation in 1983 as a government body to oversee the granting of permits to produce and exhibit films. 

New Islamic principles meant drastic changes for film-making: women were not allowed to remove their veil even in domestic settings (interestingly Asghar Farhadi’s 2012 A Separation broke this rule), physical contact between men and women could not be of a romantic (couples could not hold hands) or sexualised nature. Films were not allowed to portray addiction, smuggling or prostitution.

These ideologies still exist in Iran today. The Farabi Cinema Foundation is still charged with ensuring that films do not transgress the moral standards of the society.  
Censorship forces artists to be more creative and allegorical. However there can be no doubt that the fear that is engendered by the Iranian regime has a detrimental effect on creativity.

Jafar Panahi’s The Circle (2000) was banned in Iran. In 2003 Panahi was advised by the Ministry of Information that he would be better off living abroad as they don’t want controversial films to be made in Iran. In 2009 Panahi was accused of planning a film around the Green Movement (uprising following the presidential election) and in December 2010 he was sentenced to 6 years under house arrest and a 20 year ban on producing films and screenplays or giving interviews. 

Film-maker Tahmineh Milani had to defend herself against charges levied at her film Hidden Half (2001) by extreme Islamic clerics – the charges potentially carried the death sentence! She was released after 2 weeks in prison as a result of domestic and international protest.

Let us look at the situation of the commercial exhibition of Kiarostami’s films in Iran : it would appear that Taste of Cherry (1997) was banned in Iran due to its theme of suicide and the controversy surrounding Kiarostami kissing Catherine Deneuve on the cheek when receiving the Palme D’Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival. The Iranian censors wanted substantial cuts to his 2002 film Ten and so the film was never exhibited. Certified Copy was never released in Iran and the official line was that Juliette Binoche’s dress was too revealing!

Iranian film-makers are rightly cautious about the sanctions that the state could impose on them and there can be no suprise that Kiarostami would wait until he was involved in an international project before re-examing the theme of relationships and marriage.

Kiarostami found an international audience early in his career. His deeply reflective and philosophical works like Close Up (1990), Life and Nothing More (1992), Through The Olive Trees (1994), Taste of Cherry (1997) and The Wind Will Carry Us (1999) garnered much praise and awards on the international film festival circuit.

Ten (2002) is a radical film that confines the camera to the inside of a car! The effect on the viewing experience is profound – we are forced to study the characters in a way that we would not perhaps do if the frame had more information in it or if the camera was moving. It is a claustrophobic experience that adds to the unsettling impact of the film.

Shirin (2008) is his most radical experiment  - a penetrating exploration of what it is to be a viewer. Although the film sounds daunting – 91 minutes of footage of individual female “spectators” watching and listening to a production of the famous Iranian prose Khosrow and Shirin – I was mesmerised throughout. 

If you have seen the short feature that Kiarostami made for the 2007 Cannes festival celebration (Chacun Son Cinema) entitled Where Is My Romeo then you will know what a brilliant creative mind he has – the footage is taken from Shirin!  

When I wrote about my experiences watching Kiarostami’s films in 2014 for a piece on my blog I noted that Kiarostami’s films (up to Ten) helped to relax me and left me with a sense of tranquillity – I have heard him in an interview say that while commercial modern films seek to excite and stimulate the viewer he would prefer to induce sleepiness in the viewer (I know he is joking with this statement but the point is he wants to get at something deeper than just sensory stimulation!).
When I first watched Certified Copy in 2014 I was struck by the definite shift in tone in relation to his previous films - Kiarostami was definitely stimulating my senses this time!

On first viewing I saw the film as being a universal statement on relationships. When the couple were suddenly portrayed as being married I did not question it and instead thought it was Kiarostami exploring the different dynamics and emotions in relationships and marriages. I was in awe of what he did – the characters morphed effortlessly from strangers, to a courting couple and on to a married relationship passing through such a complex kaleidoscope of emotions.

I really feel that Juliette Binoche made this kind of exploration possible- she is able to express and change emotions in a way that is so natural and accessible to the viewer. Who else could have pulled off this role? - she won the Cannes Best Actress for this part. She has such a special presence – I recently rewatched Kieslowski’s Blue where here performance had an emotional impact that took my breath away. 

It is interesting that James seems unenthused and irritable concerning the difficulties in the relationship – he is cynical about marriage and he seems to have given up. Juliette’s character holds onto hope and is prepared to make an effort to salvage the relationship. Is Kiarostami making a statement about how he sees women and men approach relationships – that men give in too easily or that women don’t know when to let go of something? How did his own painful divorce instruct the story that we see here - he never remarried.

She remains a mystery for me from start to finish. What is the meaning behind the story of the woman and her child in Florence – how could it be that James Miller observed this from an apartment – was he not married to her at that time and the father of the boy? All these kinds of questions arise.

At the end of the film we assume that James is leaving to get his train but Kiarostami leaves a question mark as we don’t know if he departs or stays. I like how that prompts me as a viewer to imagine myself in this situation and leads me to reflect on the question of what he should do?

The theme in the film of the value of original art versus copies would seem to mirror the theme of the value of reality versus fiction that Kiarostami has so keenly explored in his films to date. 

When I first saw the film I immediately thought of the European Art Film – La Notte,  Journey to Italy and Le Mepris.

The fact that James Miller is British and so was Alexander ‘Alex’ Joyce in Journey to Italy – coincidence? I'd need another blog post to explore the issue!

P.S - I have just read this morning the essay by Godfrey Cheshire included with the Criterion Bluray – it is one of the best pieces I have ever read on a film. Go read it!


  1. Amazing review. Juliette Binoche really is an exceptional actor; she's entirely believable. (I just saw her in "The Clouds of Sils Marian". Incredible!)

    You've made me want to see every single film you referred to in this post. That is the sign of a great reviewer!

    Thanks again for yet another wonderful contribution to the blogathon! :)

  2. Great to hear that you recommend Clouds of Sils Maria Ruth - it was on my list of films to watch!

    I truly believe that since the 1990s Iran has produced the most intellectually thought-provoking and empathetic body of work of any film movement.

  3. It is so true what you write about oppression and censorship making artists skilled at using coded language and allegory-- an entirely different style of art emerges from these places. Really great post, that has me wanting to look at these movies, thanks so much for joining in this event.

  4. Kiarostami is the most fascinating filmmaker that I have been introduced to in the last couple of years. I did not have the privilege of watching things in chronological order, but rather I saw CERTIFIED COPY first. It was really CLOSE-UP that blew me away though. I've never seen another film quite like it. You might appreciate my blog post where, in part, I discuss CLOSE-UP. ( I also viewed TASTE OF CHERRY this year, and respected it more than admired it. Except for the meta-ending, TASTE OF CHERRY is neither as structurally or as narratively innovative and thought provoking as either CERTIFIED COPY or CLOSE-UP.
    Great write up giving a better context of Iranian cinema. I look forward to seeing more films from Iran as I am able to get a hold of them.

    1. Hi Josh. I read and really enjoyed your post on "The Suspension of Belief" . Close-Up is fascinating! You should try to see A Moment of Innocence as it is equally thought provoking. I really got a lot out of Taste of Cherry. I hope next yeat to watch Kiarostami's films again in chronoloical order to get a fresh perspective on them. Jafar Panahi is also a brilliant film maker - Crimson Gold and The Circle highly recommended. also Asghar Farhadi - did you see About Elly?

    2. I saw A SEPARATION recently, and was really moved by that film as well. I think ABOUT ELLY is on Netflix, so I definitely intend to see it as well when I get a chance. Thanks for reading my post as well!

    3. I saw A SEPARATION recently, and was really moved by that film as well. I think ABOUT ELLY is on Netflix, so I definitely intend to see it as well when I get a chance. Thanks for reading my post as well!

    4. About Elly is fascinating! I think you will find it to be very interesting!

    5. I actually watched it this past Sunday. It's still streaming on Netflix. It was another great experience. Thanks.

    6. I actually watched it this past Sunday. It's still streaming on Netflix. It was another great experience. Thanks.