Peter Labuza has posted a video essay over at Press Play entitled “The Double Life of James and Juliette: Mysteries and Perceptions in Kiarostami’s Certified Copy“. It’s a 22-minute attempt at deconstructing the possible explanations for Abbas Kiarostami’s film from last year. Certified Copy was one of my Top 10 of 2011, and watching the video essay helped to remind me why.
Labuza breaks things down into three different theories, the third one I hadn’t heard before. While all are interesting, I think Labuza actually focuses a little too much on the intellectual ideas behind the film, forsaking some of the wonderful emotional beats. He does touch on some of them, though.
For example, I hadn’t noticed before that James’ story about the woman with the son following a few feet back so closely mirrored Binoche’s experience with her own son. Sure, I got that Binoche felt an emotional connection to it, but actually seeing that this is how her son behaves in the film made her emotional reaction to the story that much more heartbreaking.
Labuza’s intent with the essay is, in effect, to say that Kiarostami has crafted a film which is directly about perception of art creating meaning rather than meaning coming solely from the art itself. When we understand this then we also realize that however we approach Certified Copy, with whatever theories or whatever affect it has on us, not only are our perceptions about it valid, but we are actually extracting our own personal meaning from it.
Clearly, Labuza’s perception of the film has focused more on the intellectual aspects of it, and while I find all of that fascinating, I tend to brush it aside a bit. Sure, Certified Copy intrigued me intellectually. Almost the entire time I watched it I was attempting to piece it together; to figure it out. What made Certified Copy one of the best films I saw last year, though, was the emotional connection I had to it.
In a way, that emotional connection is curious. How could this highly intellectual film full of puzzling artifice affect me like that? I suppose my perception of the film was that as much as all theories about the true nature of the plot are correct, all are incorrect, and really none make much difference. That’s not to say I gave up trying to figure it out, but I certainly didn’t let it me the only thing I paid attention to. In almost every moment, Binoche’s performance drew me in, and what I saw was a film about this woman trying to have a relationship with this man. This was true in the early parts of the film when they appear to be on a first date and the sense of desperation within her is palpable. It was true in the middle section of the film when she appears to be a woman trying to hold herself together in the face of a failing marriage. And it was true at the end when the question of whether that marriage could be saved was left up in the air. My head was totally in tune with the puzzle of the film, but my heart even more-so.
But just because that is what I got out of the film, it doesn’t make his intellectual approach invalid. On the contrary, his intellectualizing—or over-intellectualizing, as it may be—reveals that with Certified Copy, as with all art, what any person gets out of it is perfectly valid, and meaningfully personal. The talk of copies and originals in the film is just a means to explore whatever you’d like to given the situation unfolding on screen, just as any piece of art is a means to explore our own perceptions of it.
Either way, Labuza’s essay does at least one thing that’s truly great: it makes me even more excited to watch Certified Copy again. Now why the hell isn’t it out on Blu-ray in North America, yet?