Thursday, March 15, 2012

Why Jessica Should Give Certified Copy Another Chance

My friend Jessica, aka “Lobby” of The Velvet Café and the Filmspotting Forum is a wonderful film blogger.  One of the best, actually (you can see a link to her site on the sidebar).   She has wonderful opinions of film and she expresses them in such a personal, interesting way.  However, sometimes—only occasionally, mind you—she is terribly wrong.

For instance, I would claim that 2011 has produced three masterpieces of film.  Perhaps more, after all I haven’t watched A Separation yet or This Is Not a Film.  But there are three that will be discussed and watched happily for decades to come: Tree of Life, Melancholia and Certified Copy.  Jessica didn’t really care for two of them, and hasn’t watched the third and probably is now nervous about watching the third, because I have lumped them all together.

Although I might want to defend Tree of Life, I am here to talk about Certified Copy.  Jessica said that she wasn’t really interested in a very long art discussion.  And it’s true, I wouldn’t either.  And that’s what the film begins with—a discussion about whether a piece of art is to be valued equally as it’s certified copy.  It’s an interesting notion, but one that has been discussed to death in other good films like F is for Fake, My Kid Could Paint That and Exit Through the Gift Shop. The subject has been exhausted, and I would be exhausted to watch another film about it.

But Certified Copy is not about art.  It’s about relationships.

It is using the example of a single relationship, which at times is a courtship and at times is a couple fifteen years married,  to talk about the nature of relationships in general—all of our relationships, but especially our most intimate, long-standing ones. 

There are many questions the film brings up about our relationships:

Do we change over time or are we just perceived differently by others?

Is our value intrinsically our own, or do we only have the value others give us?

Must our relationships have a goal, or is it enough that we just enjoy the experience?

Is the goal of life to produce, or to be happy?

Is it acceptable to avoid the difficult things in relationships, or should we work at “fixing” them?

I admit that the film is a difficult one to watch.  The two principles, brilliantly portrayed by Juliette Binoche and William Shimell, spend most of the film arguing, bickering.  The fact that we don’t know whether the couple are complete strangers or deeply intimate is a distraction. 

Actually, let’s talk about that—see how much of a distraction it is?  But it goes into the  theme of the film.  At the beginning of the film, it seems obvious that William and Juliette don’t know each other, that she’s attracted to him, but also extremely upset at some of his opinions.  About halfway through the film, they speak as if they have had a rocky marriage, one in which he separated himself from her and their son for most of the marriage.  They also have connection with another couple who are getting married in the same place they got married 15 years ago.  And most of the way through the film, they pass an older couple, leaning on each other in order to walk. 

I believe that all four of these portraits are of their marriage, or that they all speak to different parts of the same marriage, or all marriages.  There is the courtship, where we are getting to know each other.  Then the wedding, in which the relationship is most idealistic.  Then a number of years later when the ideals are cast aside and a choice is made to continue to live together or to separate.  And, finally, old age where the decision to remain together leads to interdependence.  

What I believe the film is saying is that all four of these stages are the same marriage.  They aren’t different relationships, but the same one.  The individuals haven’t really changed.  But each stage gives them a new opportunity to perceive each other and how we value each other differently.

And this is why I love this film: I have never watched a film that more helps me understand the nature of long term relationships.  Mind you, I haven’t seen Scenes From a Marriage yet (although I will soon), but this film is deeper and more thoughtful about relationships than any film I have ever seen.

So, Jessica, if you are reading, I hope that give Certified Copy a chance.  Another chance.  I think there’s a lot there, more than anyone can catch in one viewing.  Really, it’s the up and coming thing.  Like indoor plumbing ;)


  1. Aren't you the sweetest?

    You're the second one urging me to give Certified Copy a new chance, so I guess it's easier to just comply than keep fighting it. It might take a few months though; my watching queue is a bit crowded.

    You're dead wrong about the other movies you're mentioning though. I watched The Tree of Life and gave it a 4/5. It was among my top 20 last year.

    And Melancholia was my number 5 of 2011. I haven't written longish about it since I watched it before I started to blog, back in June, but I've mentioned it a few times and I think it was a 4,5/5 in my book.

    I also liked A Separation a lot, but for different reasons than many others. And I'm a big fan of This is Not a Film.

    Just so you know!

    And you sir should watch Scenes from a Marriage!

  2. Well, I'm glad I was wrong about your opinion of Tree of Life. Because I didn't see you mention Melancholia I thought you just hadn't gotten around to it-- or that it wasn't in Sweden yet. Glad you appreciated them both!

    I loved your review of This Is Not a Film and that's the main reason I'm looking forward to it. It played one night here in Portland, but I was busy, so I couldn't see it. Hopefully it will pass through again.

    And I WILL see Scenes from a Marriage. I'm not a huge Bergman fan, but I have high hopes for it. Let me ask you: film or miniseries?

  3. Well, I love the TV series. The more of it, the better. But if you ask the real Bergman expert, Martin Teller, he'd say the movie. The choice is yours. I guess it depends on how much time you want to spend on it. :)

  4. Great article Steve. Certified Copy made me all kinds of uncomfortable. Exploring the empty aspects of their marriage was almost too much to bear.So maybe the film was doing its job after all.

  5. One aspect of Certified Copy I didn't get to in the article is how relieved I was at the end of the film. They are so upset at each other throughout the whole film that when they became gentle and emotionally giving at the end, I broke down and cried. Manly tears, of course.

  6. BTW, I finally got around to Scenes from a Marriage, and I find it just as stunning as I did Certified Copy. It is more straight forward and... well you could just look at my post on it here: