by Andrew Robinson
In Certified Copy, Abbas Kiarostami explored two people casually discussing their lives, revealing a surprising amount of information about themselves. The same format is taken here as Akiko (Rin Takanashi), a working girl who’s studying in Japan, is sent on an engagement with Watanabe (Tadashi Okuno), a former professor.
The film begins in a bar with Akiko off screen on the phone talking to her boyfriend Noriaki (Ryo Kase), who’s concerned and curious about what’s going on with her. Slowly we see Hikoshi step into the picture, her booker, who spends the next ten minutes talking her into taking the engagement.
What this film, like Certified Copy, does so well is in its ability to hold your attention for long periods of time while the setting and camera barely change. It’s engaging even when all that’s occurring on screen is interesting dialogue between two (and in some cases three) characters. Scenes like when Noriaki introduces himself to Watanabe, assuming him to be Akiko’s grandfather, and they have a discussion of him wanting to properly ask for permission to marry Akiko. At this point Watanabe goes off on this amazing point about Noriaki needing more experience even though it’s obvious that the young man doesn’t understand what the older is trying to teach him. Line after line and scene after scene, we have Watanabe casually showing his understanding of life that he’s happy to hand off to these young people around him.
There, however, is a weird element of this film which seems highly elusive and purposefully unattended to by the filmmaker: the question of why Watanabe asked for this girl, or any girl for that matter. It’s obvious that it’s not for the sake of his manhood or any odd fantasy he’s living out. It’s poised as a possibility that he made sure to get her particularly because of her peculiar situation, being a young woman who doesn’t set boundaries yet who’s unable to figure out her education – which is in the same field of study that Watanabe used to teach. Possibly Hikoshi told Watanabe about her and he felt that he could offer her a night that would inspire her to get past her own rut, but the encounter of these two characters isn’t quite as overtly directed as most films might be to have the effect required, so this remains a theory among many.
The end of this film is what will leave audiences divided as it doesn’t quite come to a conclusion. It leaves its questions and confrontations hanging without answer or true resolution.
The Upside: Some brilliant conversational character scenes
The Downside: Fans who want more answers than questions may find it wanting
On the Side: Kiarostami began as a title designer in 1969 and, at age 72, still has future projects lined up