Tasked with bringing heady ideas to life on-screen, filmmakers occasionally take the path of least resistance, building their films around characters who spend the entire running time discussing heady ideas. In 1981's My Dinner with Andre, director Louis Malle sat Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory down in a Manhattan restaurant to discuss the nature of theater, art, and life; in 1990's Mindwalk, director Bernt Capra sent Liv Ullmann, Sam Waterston, and John Heard traipsing around a rocky French island to discuss systems theory and particle physics. Certified Copy takes a more oblique approach, with director Abbas Kiarostami tackling his film's central topic—the value of authenticity (in art, in life, in perception)—from a variety of immersive angles, only the first of which is direct.

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The film opens in a bookstore in Tuscany, where an English writer (played by William Shimell) is signing copies of his new book, Certified Copy, in which he argues that issues of authenticity in art are meaningless, as even reproductions are originals and vice versa. In the audience is a woman (played by Juliette Binoche), who we soon come to learn is an antiques dealer with a mysterious fixation on the writer and his book. Over the course of a day spent touring the Tuscan countryside, these characters engage in discussions on art, authenticity, family, wine, and tossed-off minutia, while the context of their relationship steadily morphs. Are they playacting at being a married couple or are they actually estranged spouses? At every turn, Kiarostami's film wanders into elegant illuminations of authenticity, from the ersatz intimacy of helping strangers celebrate their wedding to the comparative merits of first and second languages. (At various points in the film, our characters converse in French, Italian, and English.)

Holding it all together are the leads: Binoche, who gives a rich, squirrelly performance that won her top honors at 2010 Cannes, and Shimell, a British opera singer in his first film role, a fact that provides a final twist on the film's theme. Is a singer acting somehow less authentic than an actor? Kiarostami's film avoids pedantic answers, leaving viewers with a beautiful, expertly executed puzzle. recommended

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