“I like it.”
“What do you like about it?”
“I don’t see why I have to try and convince you.”
“I wonder how you can convince yourself.”
“You’re a real art expert, aren’t you?”
“I don’t see it as work of art. I like its subject.”
“I like the way she rests her head on his shoulder.”
“I can’t believe you’re so…sentimental.”
“I can’t believe you’re so…irresponsible.”
This is an argument that takes place between an art critic (William Shimell) and an unnamed French woman (Juliette Binoche) in the film Copie Conforme (Certified Copy), by celebrated Iranian filmmaker, Abbas Kiarostami. In it, a mysterious French woman and the art critic talk about art and copies, while roaming around Tuscany.Gradually, the conversations become personal and intimate. Soon they’re sparring with each other like a married couple. One brilliantly written scene reflects how arguments can get bizarre to show years of suppressed emotions. Binoche has just been to the washroom, dabbed bright red lipstick on and put on long, pretty earrings. She sits at the table, looking at Shimell expectantly. He barely notices and grumbles about his drink.
She: “Look at your wife. She has made herself pretty for you. Open your eyes.”
He: “This is just not the moment. It is five o’clock. I’m hungry. I need a drink.”
[Crestfallen, she pulls off her earrings.]She: “When is the moment? It wasn’t last night either. When is the right moment?”
He: “Look darling, I was tired. Why couldn’t you just think my poor husband is exhausted, he has falling asleep.”
She: “Just say you don’t love me anymore.”
He: “You’d fallen asleep at the wheel going down the motorway. So I’ve a simple question for you."
She: “Simple answer.”
He: “Why did you fall asleep?”
She: “I was tired.”
He: “Did you fall asleep because you stopped loving our son?”
She: ”I dozed off, I didn’t sleep.”
He: “I dozed off too.”
She: “No, you were asleep.”
By the end of the movie, you don’t know if they met in the morning or have been married 15 years. Are they strangers play-acting – or copying – a marriage or are they a couple pretending to be strangers and moving into role-play?
Certified Copy is never really over. Long leisurely takes, still frames, ambiguous endings and talky scenes keep you engaged and engrossed. The tantalizing romance between this couple that you can’t pin down lingers in memory. The lines with which they provoke and woo each other are a seduction aimed at the audience. And it works.
Love is a shape-shifting thing. It’s usually a soaring ballad or a dance number in Bollywood. In Hollywood, it’s sealed with a kiss and some gasp-ridden lovemaking scene that offers flashes of naked skin. And then there’s the love we see in world cinema – a quietly intense thing that is filigreed with words and conceits.
There are only a few filmmakers who can indulge in this sort of love story without becoming annoyingly self-indulgent. French director Eric Rohmer is one of them. His films often follow a pattern. The central plot tends to be about a man who is attracted to one woman, distracted by a second and ultimately chooses to return to the first. It’s almost Biblical in its simplicity – the man chooses virtue over vice.
In Rohmer’s Ma Nuit Chez Maud (My night with Maud), a staunchly Catholic man spends a night with Maud, a single mom and divorcee. She challenges his religious values and he has to defend them while confronting the temptation she embodies. Each conversation in Ma Nuit Chez Maud is a little love story in itself. Intimacy is explored with ruthless honesty and a chaste yet cruel passion.
One of the most memorable scenes in the film is a 20-minute conversation between Maud and the Catholic, shot using still frames. Maud lies under an exotic white fur blanket while the man strolls around the room, pontificating and arguing. Maud listens and also provokes him. “You are both a shamefaced Christian and a shamefaced Don Juan,” she tells him.
He tells Maud, “Women have taught me a lot, morally speaking. It would be idiotic to generalize, but each girl I met posed a new moral challenge.” As he bares his soul to Maud, he seems almost unaware of the next moral challenge lying in bed.In Oscar-nominated Richard Linklater’s beloved trilogy of love stories, the challenges are not moral as much as everyday banality. Based on languid conversations, Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight goes deep into the viscera of a relationship: the courtship, the breakups, marriage and estrangement. In short: growing up.
The trilogy is a thesis on love, with each film following the lead couple over the span of a single day. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) meet, fall in love and age over the course of the three films. In Before Sunrise, they walk around in Vienna. In Before Sunset, they explore Paris and in Before Midnight, they’re a married couple on a holiday in Greece.
Their conversations range from the esoteric to the bizarre, like any couple’s. Or perhaps these are the conversations, with their artful mischief and poignant candour, that we wish we could have had.
CELINE: “All right? There could be a revolution any second...”
CELINE: “People eat a lot of feta and olive oil, they act all happy but they actually talk about how ‘angry’ they are... and it confuses me and I don't know what's going to happen in the next few weeks.”
JESSE: “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let me tell you what's going to happen alright. The same thing that always happens: Nothing.”
CELINE: “Alright. You know what? I have had absolutely zero time for myself, I have ten thousand emails I have to answer that I didn't answer... “
JESSE: “And you think I don't?”
CELINE:”I'm happy you have time to contemplate the universe and have existential problems because I don't - I barely have time to think. I work, I baby- sit, I work, I baby-sit. “
CELINE: ”I have realized I’ve just stopped loving you. This is it.”
Except of course, it isn’t. The love stories continue, as we replay scenes and remember moments in our memory, long after the films fade to black.