"Certified Copy" takes its title from a book on artistic ideas of authenticity and replication that its English author has come to a Tuscany village to talk about.
James Miller (William Shimell), the author and cultural historian, believes the perception of originality is more important than originality itself. As the movie nears the halfway point, it begins to dawn during a scene in a cafe that Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami's film about two people is also such a rumination.
Until that point, the French woman (played by Juliette Binoche in an unnamed role), has come with her son to attend Miller's talk, leaving her phone number for him before having to leave early. They meet in her gallery, take a drive in the countryside while he autographs six copies of his book for her friends, and discuss conflicting philosophical views on life and art as strangers getting to know one another.
Then something wholly unexpected happens, after the man says it was his regular observations of a woman and child from outside his window that inspired the book. The long close-up on the woman's face, as a tear falls down it, reveals it was her and her son.
"I wasn't well then," she says.
Moments later, the man steps outside to talk on the phone, and the woman goes along with a cafe owner by addressing the man as her husband of 15 years, carrying on for some time. When he returns, she lets him in on the joke. But was it?
As they interact with couples at a wedding destination, it becomes apparent they know each other in ways spoken and unspoken they hadn't earlier, furthering the ambiguity and the questioning of what's real.
Just as important is the emotional authenticity that Kiarostami, in his first feature film in a decade, explores.
Binoche, who first came to the attention of American audiences in 1996 with her memorable role in "The English Patient," is terrific once more. She is alternately combative, sentimental, angry and flirtatious, as well as ill at ease. Shimell, a British opera singer making his film debut, deftly portrays charm, coldness and self-importance.
3 stars (out of 4)
STARRING: Juliette Binoche, William Shimell
DIRECTOR: Abbas Kiarostami
RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes
RATING: Not rated, but PG equivalent for subject matter
THE LOWDOWN: Two people find unexpected connections while traveling through Italy and examining authenticity.