Two people walk and they talk. At points, they whisper through tensed mouths. At other times, they shout. At different points, each refuses to speak any more. But then each relents.
They speak in tones of academic detachment and tearfilled solicitation. They speak, at times, about the nature of art. Then they speak, at others, about the monstrousness of men. One in particular.
There are moments when it seems one may slap the other. There are moments when it seems like they may kiss — or make love, hastily, on a bed that means the world to one of them and next to nothing to the other.
There are moments when the two seem to be complete strangers. There is a moment, later, when we realize they are married. Still further on, we realize it is possible to be both.
In this season (and, indeed, our era) of machine-gun clacks and evil wizards and giant, Armageddon-bent robots, it can be easy to overlook mundane things like normal people and how they treat each other.
It’s equally easy to forget that the looks we give each other can create a feeling of devastation that an army of marauding aliens couldn’t dream of replicating.
Certified Copy concerns itself with this very personal kind of conflict. To give import to single glances, it proceeds slowly. Its visual language is unimposing. People sit. They stroll. The film has no car chases. Juliette Binoche seems to drive at a safe speed.
The film’s pace and volume made it hard, at times, to concentrate. The noise of my own life — chores to be done, personal battles to be waged — tended to creep in. It took an act of will to put away my own bullshit long enough to watch theirs. This is one of the arguments the film makes, that solipsism is culture’s greatest flaw. We need other people more than we need our own droning thoughts.
But even then, the film is hard to watch. There are times when William Shimell’s aloofness strains patience. At other times, Binoche seems just a little too crazy-needy to take seriously.
In choosing this tonal softness, the film must wear its
flaws plainly. There are times when the seams show, when these two cease to be people and become characters. There are no well-timed explosions to mask moments of failed characterization.
Certified Copy is not a perfect film, but it is a noble one, and when it hits its emotional pressure points, it hits hard.
There is a growing sense (perhaps an American one) that everyday triumphs and failures are somehow not the stuff of cinema. That perhaps film requires grand drama and huge spectacles. And so we create ever more labyrinthine and torturous gauntlets for our heroes to run through.
Where once bank robbers had pistols, then machine guns, then dynamite-strapped chests, they now have nuclear devices. When an evil wizard ceases to be sufficiently troublesome, the wizard must seek to become immortal.
It’s easy to forget that there are as many types of stories as there are types of people, and that the greatest power available to the big screen is not a kinetic plot or explosive effects, but the electricity created between two actors.
Certified Copy is a wonderful reminder that all the many machinations of humankind boil down to interactions between people and the way we behave toward each other.
There’s enough ugliness and affection there to power any narrative.