Copie conforme (Certified Copy) stars French actress Juliette Binoche, perhaps best known in the English world for her role in The English Patient, or the foodie-romance Chocolat, and British operatic baritone William Shimell.
James Miller is an English writer of a new essay entitled ‘Certified Copy’ (Copie Conforme/Copia Conforme), which addresses authenticity and originality vs. the value of copies in art. Elle (Binoche) attends a lecture in Italy by Miller, but the film is immediately ambiguous about the relationship Elle & James have with each other. At first, it seems as if they might be strangers, but as the film progresses, their relationship seems more like a marriage on the rocks, or even perhaps that of a man and his mistress. It is never defined. After posing for a shopkeeper as a couple married 15 years, their relationship becomes unclear. The bickering, the intensity of their arguments; all are essential to keeping the viewer guessing as to their true nature.
The film is an excellent pas de deux; it may not be appreciated by everyone, as it is fairly undramatic until towards the end, and is very much a character-driven piece. Binoche is fantastic as Elle. It’s impossible not to feel for her, and to commiserate with her anger over Miller’s apparent indifference. And William Shimell as James Miller is convincing and subtle. One might never guess that his background is in opera (though his voice is a delight to listen to, whether he is speaking English, French, or a broken Italian.)
The language varies during the film: Elle is a native of France, James is a native of England, and the film is set in Tuscany. He speaks English, mainly, and some French, with a tiny smattering of Italian. She speaks all three languages fluently. Depending on the scene, they switch back and forth. James seems nearly as comfortable in French as in English, though he reverts to English during times of frustration and stress. Elle is comfortable in all languages, though she uses French during conversations with her son and when she is angry or sad.
As the film progresses, so does the relationship between Elle and James. One leaves the theatre wondering: are they married? were they married? The film ends with more questions than answers, but in some ways that is its charm. There are no easy answers, no quick endings with plots tied up in a neat bow. It’ll provoke conversation long after the reel has finished.