This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
"Certified Copy" invites us into an intriguing story and then strands us. Yes, we can consider various explanations for what we see, and yes, the film's mystery is apparently its purpose. For me, it is too clever by half, creating full-bodied characters but inserting them into a story that is thin soup. I enjoy puzzles like Antonioni's "Blow Up" or "L'Avventura," with characters who don't understand what has happened, but here there seems to be no underlying reality at all, and Abbas Kiarostami is playing with us. That he does it so well is a consolation.
A woman (Juliette Binoche) attends a lecture in Italy by an art historian (William Shimell). He speaks on the difference between original art and its copies. Is there, in fact, any difference? The woman would like to meet him. She leaves the address of her antiquities shop. He appears, they engage in talk that is immediately flirtatious, and she offers to drive him to a nearby village in Tuscany. In the course of the drive, and at a cafe after they get there, their apparent relationship seems to shift. The cafe owner hears them arguing, assumes they're married, and then they begin to behave as if they're married.
Which is the real relationship, and which is the counterfeit? Were they a couple pretending to meet for the first time or a new couple pretending to be married? I believe that to begin with they are really meeting for the first time, and later they are really an established couple. Perhaps Kiarostami's intention is to demonstrate how the reality is whatever the artist chooses, and that he can transfer from original art to a copy in midstream. Or perhaps that's not possible. Perhaps I have no idea what he's demonstrating.
The woman, who is not named, and the art historian, named James Miller, are articulate, playful and devious. I enjoyed watching them, whatever they were up to. Binoche and Shimell always stay in the moment, and never signal us what they're up to. Binoche seems so attracted to the man in the early scenes that it seems they must have some history. But it's certainly not the history they later seem to reveal. Throughout "Certified Copy," there's the sense of off-screen dimensions or untold side stories.