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« Cannes Tidbits: Mommy, Foxcatcher, Two Days One Night, Lost River | Main | Sashay Away? Bianca, Adore, Courtney »

Cannes Monologue: Certified Copy

Andrew with another Cannes-themed monologue… 

At 50 Juliette Binoche remains one of the cinema’s finest actors – excellent in multiple languages. Though her time in Godzilla (now playing) is short, we can look forward to much more in Words and Pictures and Cannes entry Clouds of Sils Maris, the latter written specifically for her. Can Olivier Assayas film capture as many of her finest assetts as her Cannes winning turn in Certified Copy (2010)?


Certified Copy, my favourite of the decade (thus far), is remembered most often for its cerebral nature, a puzzle we must solve. Yes, much of it is rumination on theory but it's theory with passion and feeling. For all of its technical and intellectual merit, it’s also a love letter to Binoche from writer/director Abbas Kiarostami. 

Given it’s musings on what’s real and what’s a copy, Elle (Binoche’s character) might not quite qualify as a “real” woman - her name literally translates as “She” – as much as a platform for Kiarostami and Binoche to examine temperaments, hers change at the drop of hat, and ideas. The film makes you work but is all the more rewarding for it. Late in the movie, Elle and James head to quaint restaurant. They are no longer an affable writer and beleaguered fan they were at first but a beleaguered married couple.

She heads to the bathroom to put on lipstick and a pair of earrings. When she returns he doesn’t notice, too annoyed with the subpar wine. She tries to quell his moodiness. [More...]

"Don’t be so demanding. You can’t expect a fantastic wine list in a remote Tuscan trattoria. And to be honest, I don’t find it that bad.

Are you out of your mind? Why are you doing this? Can’t you just enjoy what you have instead of moaning? Can’t you just be here for a change? Look around you. Be here!”"

The way a disagreement over wine turns to legitimate rancour is jarring at first, but it mirrors how negligible issues become things to fight over. Why is James so cross? Why does Elle seem so strained? Whether or not the marriage is real Juliette's emotions are, full of fervour and verve.

It’s almost as if she’s talking to us. Kiarostami’s words are deliberately maddening and their meanings seem endless. It's easy to get caught up in wondering what it all means rather than just taking it in as the director and actress are asking you to do. Right here in this moment. The most significant criticism of Certified Copy is that it feels like an exercise. Binoche's Elle is the key to making it work. Like the film itself her role is theory, but the performance is genuine. Elle is hurtling from emotion to emotion, sometimes conflicting ones but Binoche makes each register legitimate.

She breaks her angry tirade to look outside, as if past us. And her recent anger is replaced with a longing look.

"Look it’s the same couple. What a dream place. Look how sweet they are. Two lovebirds. Look at your wife who's made herself pretty for you. Open your eyes."

The younger couple James and Elle met earlier is just another Kiarostami trick of doubles. But puzzle solving is secondary when Elle pleads. James is not listening but the moment is no less affecting. Open your eyes, Kiarostami himself seems to say, and receive the gift of this wonderful actress performing magic. Don’t be like James who sullenly complains, This is just not the moment.

"So when is the moment? When is the good moment? It wasn’t last night either. When is the right moment? It was our anniversary. For once you didn’t forget our anniversary. You came back after a fortnight away, presumably for work. When I came out of the bathroom, you were fast asleep snoring. I tried to move your pillow to see if you’d react. You barely stirred. You glanced at me and straight back to sleep! So, please tell me when is the right moment?"

Shimell interrupts with a particularly terse reading, I was tired. Why couldn’t you just think my poor husband is so tired, so exhausted he’s fallen asleep. Binoche's rejoinder is my favourite of her line-readings

Of all the nerve! My poor husband? What? He’s so exhausted? That he’s fallen asleep? I’m tired too!

She's so angry she flips between French and English and the derision is hilarious. Volatile Elle then moves from derisive mockery to potent distress.

Just say you don’t love me anymore!

It's this line that brings her monologue to a close. We're no closer to understanding just who these people are to each other, or which of their relationships, if either, is truth. The beauty is that it doesn't matter and any reading works when Juliette Binoche is giving us this gift of a performance that's so passionate, naunced, wonderful. She's authentic even in unreality. 

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Reader Comments (5)

One of the best films I saw in my Cannes marathon last year. So far, I've seen 5 films plus a short segment by Kiarostami and I want to see more.

May 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSteven


Cerebral, sure - in the sense that there are layers and layers of meaning to peel back if you're so inclined. But it has so many surface pleasures - Binoche, by nature, chief among them - that you can let the dialectics just wash over you and still leave the cinema blissed out.

"Margaret" has since overtaken it as my favourite movie of the decade so far, but it's unquestionably one of the greats.

May 22, 2014 | Unregistered Commentergoran

One of my favorite films of the decade too, and scenes like this make it. Are we watching something real or is what we're watching just a copy of reality? And does it matter? And the best thing about the film is that for all the theorizing, for all the formal trickery, it's still moving. And that both feeds the theorizing and softens it. Brilliant.

May 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTB

LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE her in this!! My favorite female leading performance of the decade (thus far). She makes her emotional approach to the character work perfectly with the highly cerebral nature of the film.

May 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBVR

Oh-- don't bother with "Words and Pictures". I love Binoche, but that was the most dreadful cliche of a movie. Saw it at SFIFF and just wanted my money back. Felt bad for both actors in it- trapped by atrocious dialog and the worse kind of drivel.

May 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommentertroyB

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