Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami has long been heralded for his poetic visual style and poignant yet understated narratives. His latest drama boasts all this and more.

Certified Copy is masterfully crafted, yet feels effortless. Starring the remarkable Juliette Binoche as a heartsick French art dealer, and the debonair William Shimell as pragmatic British writer, this love story centers on the alluring duo, who meet in Tuscany then play tourist on a beautiful and important day. Though this may sound like a clichéd tale (love set amidst a gorgeous European backdrop), this drama subverts cynical expectations at every corner, revealing something deeper and more moving than its premise could explain. Gloriously shot, this cryptic love story is a feast for the eyes, reveling in the niches of the beautiful Italian village as well as the unvarnished appearances of its older and distinguished leads.

Binoche, who is often achingly glamorous is film, is dressed down here, with bra straps askew and smudged lipstick that makes her more everywoman than movie star. This thoughtful effort to demystify this world-renowned beauty gives the film a fresh and raw feel, allowing Binoche to fully dive into this character driven drama, and she does so with brilliance and grace. She absolutely shines as the oft-flustered Elle. As to her co-star, the famous opera singer Shimell, though this is his film debut, he proves a heady match to Binoche. Together they build a poignant portrait and discuss the value of art and the difficulties of long-term love. They are captivating as they spar and flirt in turn, resulting in a relatable emotional roller coaster.

But it’s not just the performances that are worth gushing over. The multi-lingual script is clever and intoxicating, full of metaphor and enigma that make it a joy to mull over. The dialogue is alternately biting and bittersweet, and the cinematography is likely to be admired for decades to come, full as it is of reflections and deft but fluent framing. This all culminates to create something rare in narrative film: a true sense of spontaneity. All in all, Certified Copy is a gem. Beautifully crafted, captured and performed, this may prove to be Kiarostami’s masterpiece.

Certified Copy opens in limited release March 11, 2011.

Grade: A

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