Ben Affleck does it again, with this tense, exceptionally well-made alternate-history time capsule. It’s lacking in flavor, yes. (The harmless in-jokes about the movie business are the film’s most personal element, since the Affleck character’s rote estranged-dad role is utterly generic.) It embellishes history, yes. (On reflection and some research, the film’s elevation of the derring-do of feisty CIA agent Tony Mendez way beyond the apparent facts of the historical matter seem a bit gauche.) But, boy, is it a cracking story while it’s up there on the screen. It does just exactly what it has to do for two straight hours, and its period trappings have the strength of sense memory. Hell, I was ready to stand up and applaud the old-school WB logo. It’s not remotely the best film of the year. But it is a ton of fun.
Certified Copy, which opens on a lecture consigning the concept of originality in art to the Academy of the Overrated, is an awesomely playful intellectual romance (or is it a farce?) from the great Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. When I say playful, I mean confounding in the manner of Last Year at Marienbad, which basically dared viewers to say which competing, contradictory story threads represented real events in the film’s world. I mean bewildering in the style of Bunuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire, which had two different actresses playing a single character. And when I say that, what I really mean is that it’s a bracingly reflexive exercise that flouts basic rules of narrative cinema and manages to come out ahead of the game.
I’ll be damned if I can adequately express what it’s really about, but I never really shook the insinuated poetry of Abbas Kiarostami’s most recent feature. Casting Behzad Dourani as a filmmaker — and thus Kiarostami surrogate — bound and determined to violate the sanctity of a tiny village’s death ritual, the director examines his own relationship with the non-professionals whom he photographs. The film derives its title from a softly erotic poem by Foroogh Farrokhzaad, which is recited by Dourani in a darkened cellar to a young woman who is milking a cow for him. (You can imagine the symbolism.) Kiarostami’s greatest achievement here may be the documentary-style recreation of the village (and the nearby hillside to which he must hurry in order to take cell phone calls) in such geographic detail that, walking out of the theater, you feel you’ve actually spent some time there. Otherwise, the film is merely gorgeous, strikingly observed, and, against the odds, really quite funny.