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Originally published Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 3:02 PM

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Movie review

'Certified Copy': We're not on 'Cairo Time' in this romance

A movie review of "Certified Copy," Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami's first European movie, about a couple (Juliette Binoche and William Shimell) who pretend to be married.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

'Certified Copy,' with Juliette Binoche, William Shimell. Written and directed by Abbas Kiarostami. 106 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains profanity). In English, French and Italian, with subtitles. Harvard Exit.

Kind of an anti-"Cairo Time," Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami's first European film aggressively toys with the conventions of travelogue-ish romantic dramas.

Although his stars are as handsome as their exotic surroundings, and they initially generate a good deal of charm, the characters they're playing are difficult to pin down. Are they originals or certified imitations?

Juliette Binoche plays a flirtatious French antiques dealer who lives with her restless young son in Italy. While she appears to be single, her identity will soon make a drastic shift.

William Shimell (a British opera singer making his film debut) plays a writer whose ideas about art are channeled into a rather vague lecture. Indeed, it commands less attention than the phone call he accepts in the middle of delivering it.

The lecture doesn't exactly grip Binoche's character, who nevertheless invites him on a scenic trip. He's happy to leave the driving to her, and for a while they develop an easy on-the-road chemistry.

When a Tuscany café owner mistakenly concludes they're man and wife, they begin a role-playing game. There's a Jekyll-and-Hyde quality to this twist, and the actors, especially Binoche, make a feast of it. A disagreement over a "corky" wine bottle suddenly takes on a ridiculous intensity.

After a certain point, however, the actors appear to be having more fun than the audience. The movie threatens to become a sketch about a coquette and a boor squabbling at each other to little effect.

"Certified Copy" won Binoche the best-actress award last year at the Cannes Film Festival; the camerawork is often as startling as Kiarostami's compositions in his best-known film, "A Taste of Cherry." Still, the more his characters split their personalities in a made-up marriage, the less you're likely to be engaged.

John Hartl:

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