Certifiably Amazing, by Scott Nye
I’ve gone through this every which way in my head, and there simply isn’t any way to dive into this film without spoilers of some kind. And yeah, this is one of those European movies about two people walking around and talking, but I was really taken with where it went with that premise and the many possible interpretations of those events, so if you don’t want to know, this is your chance. Just know that it’s a masterpiece, and I cannot possibly recommend it enough.
The film’s title is also the name of a book within the film. At the opening, we’re presented with a little talk and signing by the author, James Miller (William Shimell), at which he discusses various matters pertaining to his subject, reproductions of works of art and whether or not those pieces have their own inherent value. A woman (identified in the credits only as “She,” but played by Juliette Binoche) is in the audience who will later invite James on a trip through the Italian countryside, where they will discuss the authenticity of art and relationships.
For those of us who appreciate a little intellectual exercise in a film, Certified Copy ends up being a lot of fun very quickly. The dialogue is wonderful, lending itself easily to the cliche descriptions of “fresh” and “lively,” and Shimell and Binoche find the core truths of their intellectual arguments. For James, this is merely a casual interest that he has developed strong feelings toward, and he frames his opinions not as divine revelation, but more seems to say, “you have your opinion, I have mine. I’m just probably right.” For She, it is her life, and her initial exuberance at getting to meet Miller quickly fades upon the realization that he is not at all the man she imagined when she read his book; that is, he’s not somebody who agrees with her.
They stop at a cafe on their journey, where the owner mistakes James for She’s husband, and she does nothing to correct her. She mentions this to James, and James makes no effort either, and slowly they fall into a pattern of behaving as a married couple even upon exiting the cafe. But are they really? Does acting like one make them that? And, yes, does copying the manner and soul of a married couple imbue their relationship with the same meaning that a true married couple would have? Further, does someone mistaking something for the real thing give it the power of the original?
In reading reviews of the film, it’s fascinating to see how people have staked out each side with the casual certainty that comes with not even knowing another possibility existed, but there aren’t really any easy answers to the central mystery. Some believe James and She were always married, they just play-acted their meet-up, and others believe they were never married, and play-acted their fallout. My girlfriend and I batted around the possibility that they were divorced, but that seems almost certainly untrue.
The truth is much more fluid, much less harder to define, and all in the details. Like how James suddenly speaks French upon playing the part of the husband, and later recalls a detail that She mentioned to the cafe owner, but which he was not around to hear. And yet their meet-up was not one of former or current lovers, and the performances lend much more artificiality to the marriage segment than the just-getting-to-know-you part. But maybe that’s because I didn’t know there was anything to question at the start, and maybe the artistic fraud so fooled me that I didn’t know there was an original only a few miles away.
The film, like so many other greats, asks more questions than it cares for or I am capable of answering, but in spite of its obvious points of reference – Before Sunrise/Sunset, etc. – it is a film all its own. I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything quite like it, but it never makes a show of its brilliance or singularity. I absolutely fell in love with it from its very first frame, and was simply astonished that it made me fall in love over and over again throughout a very short running time. By far the best film of the year so far, and one I strongly urge you to see.