The Auteur is dead

William Shimmel and Juliette Binoche drive around Tuscany in Cetified Copy (2010), a baffling story about a couple.

The world-famous Iranian film auteur has died at the age of 76 years. Just a few days ago he had been added to the Oscar Academy.

The Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami recently passed away in France, as the Iranian news agency ISNA reported. Kiarostami had traveled last week from Tehran to France to receive treatment there for cancer, according to the article.

Abbas Kiarostami was one of the most influential figures of the Iranian film. In the sixties, he belonged to the so-called New Wave in Iranian cinema. After the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, he chose to remain in the country when so many artists went into exile. He had the opportunity to work abroad sometime later.

He was highly esteemed even outside his home country. In 1997, Kiarostami won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for his film Taste of Cherry. Two years later he received for his film The Wind will carry us different prizes at the film festival of the Venice Biennale.

The director also won the Austrian Medal for excellence in Science and Art in 2014. Just a few days ago, he was added along with a hundred other filmmakers as a new member of the Oscar Academy. Members of the Oscar Academy decide who will be honored with the world’s most coveted film awards each year.

My favorite film by Abbas Kiarostami is Copie Conforme (Certified Copy).  Chronologically, The story revolves around the meeting of a French antique dealer (Binoche) based in Arezzo in Italy and James Miller, a British art critic (Shimell) who comes to Tuscany to promote the release of his last book translated into Italian. In reverse, the narrative leads us to think that the author of the book has been recreating the concept of art as a copy of real life.  He could be retracing a trip to Lucignano with his wife or is adjusting to the challenging game full of the woman’s desires. The peculiarity of the film lies on the narrative indeterminacy and interpretative play.

This is a small revolution in the work of Abbas Kiarostami.  It was the first time he shot outside his countryItaly. It should not be inferred that from this moment on he has been exiled.

When it was presented in competition at Cannes, in 2010 it was the culmination of a project he mentioned a few years ago. People were worried then whether Isabelle Adjani spoke Arabic. He planned to shoot the film in Beirut, a film where she would have spoken three languages. The movie has matured in a deserted time and in replaying in another form it has gained more sophistication. The copy of a first draft has been enhanced with the input of so many reflections, which also guarantees control and enables it to convey a hint of a greater truth.

Such is one of the issues that masks a game. A few days in the life of a French woman living in a foreign land, and whose frustrated desire, existential dissatisfaction translate her uprooting. She speaks English, Italian and French. This woman is both lacking in roots and a man in her life. She runs an art gallery in Florence while raising a son. She feels neglected by her husband who is absent in the film.

We can talk about gender war in Kiarostami but this might lead to a misunderstanding of his work. The men in his movies live in the illusion that a woman’s love once acquired would no longer require them to show any more affection. While women are acutely aware of the insecurity, they fear being abandoned and require pledges of love, which only makes them complicit to the game. Their serenity comes from the certainty to have a man assuming his duties as husband and father. A man who would always be on time, who would not forget their wedding anniversary and would have kept for both of them the memory of the magic hours of their romance.

The name of the woman is not given. The film is a fable and a comedy. A comedy of pretense. A game appearances. The woman gets lost while attending the lecture by the art critic who has just published an essay. She is a narcissistic fop, a calculator, an opportunist. She invites him to visit his gallery, asks him to autograph copies of her book she bought for herself and friends. They embark on trip to Lucignano, Tuscany, where they witness a wedding celebration and endure a dizzying reflection of what happens between them.

Certified Copy takes on a disarming technique for its imperceptibility. The two protagonists are forever engaged in polemical discussions about the value of a work of art as a reproduction compared to the original. Is the price of a pendant dependent on the intention of the artist or the look that it makes when a woman wears it. The scenario confuses the issue, offers several revolutions. Man evokes a memory in which he projects. Then a café waitress and a tourist take them for husband and wife. “A beautiful couple,” someone said.

Is a story unfolding, are we forming anything here? We are witnessing a disturbing enough domestic scene that builds upon this doubt. Kiarostami has made hid mark on this style of cinematic reflection, exploring the revelatory power of the lure, the visionary power of the simulacrum, the psychoanalytic role of lying to unearth the truth.  As in Close-up (1991, where an unemployed man is posing as a famous film director), Kiarostami uses the confusion between right and wrong for us to access something beyond the image. These symbolic scenes remind us that we are in the cinema. A woman like Juliette Binoche is displayed on a screen, her lust for life, her sorrows, her love of the other, is the order of the confession.

Surreptitiously, she begins to speak to him as he was her unworthy husband, as if this hot afternoon in Tuscany was a break or an ultimate seduction scene. Somehow, as in Close-up or Shirin (2008, where Kiarostami has his back to the projection room screen to film the faces of the spectators), there are two movies in one: one is about the heroin and the other one is what Kiarostami shows us.

When filming his heroine in a car, the camera is fixed on her in defiance of the landscape, as when he showed the spectators in Shirin, Kiarostami says that this is the break between what is in the characters and what is in the scenery. But the most important thing here is his own views. The views of the illusionist who does not hide his conjuring tricks to identify the truth.


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