This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Robert Beksinski’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Having read comparisons to Linklater's "Before...." series, I was slightly aware of the structure of the film beforehand. That it would be dialogue driven, filmed in real time (just about), and quite simply a film about love and relationships in an exotic location. While it did live up to that comparison in those regards, it also became its own mind bending film in many other aspects. Basically after the cafe scene, the film becomes an intriguing mystery box where every bit of dialogue could be used as a clue to uncover the true nature of their relationship.
The screenplay is what is key here; from the duo's first meet in the antique shop interacting with one another as strangers would do (yet since the beginning, Binoche's Elle maintaining a sense of frustration with William Shimell's James that is quite awkward and unnatural for a stranger's introductory meeting) to the complete transition to broken married life after the cafe. Even though this makes the film feel fragmented like pieces of a shattered mirror in which we have to rearrange to see the clear picture, the fact is the script honestly could have and perhaps is told in a simple linear fashion. The only thing is that the writing hides the fact rather well that they are a distant married couple. The ambiguity however adds a much welcomed layer of depth to the film.
As I stated before there is certainly clues to be picked up on in the dialogue that can help a viewer decide on a specific interpretation. For instance Binoche while Shimell out of the room on the cell phone during that infamous cafe scene tells the waitress in Italian (a language that James does not speak) that he only shaves every other day, later on in the film James earnestly admits to this out of the blue as a fact Binoche could not have known about him if they were indeed complete strangers to one another. The only road bump in this theory is Binoche's son in the film unable to recognize the writer as his father however it could be that he is merely joking with his mother of falling in love with a man (who as described in the dialogue as always being absent in her marriage and his childhood) who feels like a stranger.
The writing is phenomenal in how Kiarostami can make a concept so complex out of something probably very simple. The film is also stunningly beautiful to look upon with shot composition and placement that achieves supreme effectiveness (loved that first meet in the antique shop where the camera focuses on James but Binoche can be seen via reflection very small in one of her glimmering art pieces). The acting was also top notch with Juliette Binoche deserving of all of her accolades for that year and William Shimell known more for being an Opera singer rather than actor putting on a genuinely cold performance befitting of his character. I am in love with Certified Copy and I think the film's double edged sword of interpretative design will only make for superior revisits in the future.