Abbas Kiarostami’s film, Certified Copy (“Copie Conforme” in original title, 2011), presents a fascinating encounter as if it were the snapshot of a marriage, especially as it is played out by two strangers who meet for the first time, and end up spending an afternoon together– a period of the many hours of a morning and an afternoon, which are captured in just over 1.5 hours that span the film. Without dwelling on details of plot, the issue I want to discuss is of the distinction between what is actually said, and the sub-text that inevitably arises as the conversation proceeds. On the one level it is a conversation between an author (the man) whose book of art criticism, he feels obliged to defend to a critical reader (the woman) who came to hear him speak on his book tour, and afterwards invites him for a coffee.
But very quickly we realize that the discussion is not purely intellectual as examples get drawn from the woman’s family—her sister’s stammering but adoring husband, her rebellious teenage son, her absent husband whose work seems more important than family, etc. The author seems oblivious to the offence he is causing to the woman as he blandly advances his counter-arguments (in typical intellectual fashion) to her obviously personal issues. She valiantly tries to match him on that same abstract intellectual level, but her emotions intrude, and from the first of many acidic comments we see the familiar contours of a more familiar kind of argument—that between a married couple.
The author (the man) wants to make one last point before changing the subject, to which the reader (the woman) responds that he simply “wants to have the last word.” She takes him to see a painting that she thinks will be of interest to him, but when they get there he doesn’t seem interested. She complains to him about issues she is having with her teenage son, and he responds by defending the son, much to her irritation and dismay. They discuss marriage as an institution but again the discussion quickly becomes a husband-wife argument as she projects her experience of dealing with an absentee husband, and he projects his experience of dealing with the unreasonable demands of a wife. It is a familiar argument, and many of us may have experienced it in different shades in our relationships.
Interestingly, while the woman initially comes across as being stubborn and petulant while the man is balanced and urbane, they both go through transformations as the film progresses. The man becomes sulky and irate, and the woman sympathetic and kind. The ending is ambivalent, but a realization seems to come to the woman at least, that the two of them have different (and incompatible) conceptions of the world. The whole conversation (and the most of the film), peppered with arguments, feints and thrusts, reconciliations and breaks is revealed to be a futile attempt by each to convince the other of the rightness of his/her worldview. Even as the film ends, this conundrum remains explicitly unresolved—as it does between married couples in the real world. And the familiar arguments continue (Who is right? Me, of course!) raising questions of the futility of marital arguments, or the acceptance of them—depending on your disposition.