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March 08, 2011


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Jason M.

So, "Certified Copy" is science fiction in a "Syndromes and a Century" way, perhaps?

warren oates

It makes me so happy to see Kiarostami make a European art film in a number of non-native (for him) languages, with a mix of big stars like Binoche and non-actors and have it be this great. One thing I love about CERTIFIED COPY is how genuinely suspenseful the story is, keeping you watching right up until the last shot, a quality shared with TASTE OF CHERRY and THROUGH THE OLIVE TREES, but for which "meditative" directors like Kiarostami don't usually get recognized. The reality twisting and role playing stuff reminded me of Jacques Rivette films in the best possible way.

That Fuzzy Bastard

"Science fiction"? I dunno, I'd say a story about the porousness and instability of reality is "fantasy". "Science fiction" is about scientifically-plausible realities with fairly strict rules. Arguably fantasy novels where the rules of magic are painstakingly worked out are more science fiction, and science fiction novels where the technology does whatever it needs to do at the moment are fantasy novels set in the future rather than the past. Also, D&D Fourth Edition rules are a travesty.

Dan Clinton

Whether or not your conceit ends up seeming supportable (and whether or not that's anything like the point) it makes me want to see the film all the more.

I'd hazard that aesthetic modernism always resembles science-fiction at least to the extent that the work of art attempts to describe the principles governing its existence. I'm not sure how much it matters whether those rules are formal vs. cosmological, experiential vs. physical, but I'd guess that distinctions of that kind are less negotiable for the devotees of "hard" science-fiction than they are to someone like me.

Also, the recent vogue for counterfactualism and alternate lives in high-profile science-fiction (from a novel like Anathem to the latest Star Trek film to the cloning scenario in Moon) makes your contention seem more likely and more suggestive. The sudden shift you describe in the relationship between characters seems not unrelated. Maybe the point is that science-fiction has taken up the problem of authenticating personal experience (especially against the existential threat of interchangeable alternate selves) in a way that makes this film feel closer to a genre that seems like such an odd fit on the surface of things. Come to think of it, the central act of impersonation in Close-Up seems like the next thing to a virtual reality or alternate world plot. So, pending an actual viewing of the film, I buy the sci-fi connection as a revealing and amusingly perverse way to approach Kiarostami.


Binoche is such a rancid ham though. Anyone see that idiotic RED BALLOON movie where she played a HARRIED SINGLE MOM who COULDN'T MAKE ENDS MEET in her career as a CHINESE MARIONETTE-ist?

Movies sucked a thousand flavors of dick, especially all her STUPID FACES and mannered tics, playing with her hair and blowing smoke and PLAYING WITH PUPPETS and acting frazzled.

Like, HEY BITCH, GET A REAL JOB. Not a lot of sympathy for some mugging hag who can't support her stupid fucking kid because she insists on doing a CHINESE MARIONETTE show.

Who directed that shit? Some old Chinese guy? Stop those people. I never heard of this director either. I hope anyone who goes to see this ends up on a government watch list.



Are there 2 LexGs out there, the erudite and the anti-matter asshole?


I'm loathe to approach near enough to a subject where even a single atom of Lex's awfulness might land on me, but I've never thought much of Binoche's acting. I find her very low impact, lacking in drive, uncompelling. She doesn't give things like deep, desperate need, purpose or conflict to her parts and characters, or at least I'm not seeing it. I've never understood her ubiquitousness or her stardom.


But puppetry is one of the most harrowing blue collar occupations. Didn't you learn anything from Being John Malkovich?

warren oates

@Nick, if you see CERTIFIED COPY and still feel the same way about Binoche, I'll be surprised. You have seen her in those Haneke films too, right? You're not just judging on the Miramax fluff?

@Lex, you're actually kind of right. Not about Binoche in general, but about the awfulness and awkwardness of FLIGHT OF THE RED BALLOON, which is exactly the sort of directorial fish-out-of-water disaster I feared CERTIFIED COPY might turn out to be. Instead, thankfully, Kiarostami's film confirms once again that he's one of the greatest living filmmakers, capable of just about anything he puts his mind to.


FLIGHT OF THE RED BALLOON is great, and it fits with Hou's major works without qualification. Michael Sicinski says it better than I could have:



Anybody who thinks Binoche is less than a first-class actress (not to mention beauty) needs to get his/her head removed from his/her ass post-haste. Code Unknown? Or Cache? Or Blue? Or Lovers on the Bridge, for Pete's sake? Of course, yes, Red Balloon is a masterpiece, and her performance therein is masterly to boot. Regarding that film, I'd say it's Hou's best in a while, even topping Three Times. And of course I can't wait to see Certified Copy.

warren oates

@Zach, really? THREE TIMES and THE RED BALLOON? I'd say those are the worst ones. Maybe I just don't get Hou, but I'm a fan of FLOWERS OF SHANGHAI, GOODBYE SOUTH GOODBYE and MILLENNIUM MAMBO among others. Binoche's performance and a few moments with the kid in his loft are about the only parts of Hou's French film that have any life for me. One of the things I like about Hou is that he's not some kind of otherworldly talent like many other masters of slow cinema. He's more a workmanlike kind of craftsman (a la Angelopoulos) who sometimes gets to those transcendent places the hard way. On the other hand, when he doesn't, he really doesn't. It isn't like with, say, Sokurov or Tsai Ming Liang where even their lesser films can be fascinating and worth repeated viewings.


I think I can see where you're coming from, Warren, but I can't agree. For me, Hou is our greatest living filmmaker, and FLIGHT OF THE RED BALLOON, alongside its companion CAFE LUMIERE, is a key film about contemporary city life.

There is certainly a hand-crafted quality to Hou's work, but I don't think he gets there "the hard way" (a film like FLOWERS OF SHANGHAI takes one's breath away, it seems so effortless) - just in his own way. He's a unique filmmaker in the sense that he is someone who has truly invented his method from scratch, in marked contrast to his immediate peers Yang and Tsai who were both heavily, and quite self-consciously influenced, by European art films when they were coming up.

Kent Jones

"…invented his method from scratch…" - I know what you mean, Edo. But then, can that really be said of anyone? I guess that with Hou, every single aesthetic choice seems to be weighed against felt experience, and there's no game-playing. I don't feel the weight of cinematic history behind him, but thousands of years of Chinese aesthetics, philosophy and culture. All the same, though, it isn't so surprising that THE GODFATHER is one of his favorite movies. By the way, tacking two separate threads together, I remember how impressed Ulu Grosbard was by the acting in Hou's movies, specifically GOODBYE SOUTH GOODBYE and FLOWERS OF SHANGHAI.

"THREE TIMES…worst…" To each his/her own. I almost passed out from Stendahl syndrome during the silent section of that movie.

Glenn Kenny

I've been feeling rather poorly (physically) today, so I haven't been as robust as I might have been on this topic, but lemme just say that while I found certain aspects of "Red Balloon" a little less than compelling, for the most part I'm all for it. As I am all for "Three Times." (What Kent said.) As I am all for Binoche. It's kind of interesting that she made her initial impression on American audiences playing beautiful but kind of sadly pliable individuals and has of late been hitting quite a stride playing very idiosyncratically "difficult" women.

My little touch of ague (not quite, but, you know), touched of by my unwise decision to traipse about without an overcoat in 38 degree weather on Monday (I'm not 48 anymore!) did give me the opportunity (okay, excuse) to catch up and/or revisit a buncha discs... for those keeping score at home, the Blu-ray of the 1970 "Quiet Days in Clichy" (kind of endearing, in its very improper way); the later-referenced "Nuit du Carrefour" (so many different kinds of odd movie packed into 70 minutes!) the Blu-ray of "Let Me In" (impressive in parts, for sure, but hardly the reinvention of horror...funny how no make critics took note of the extent to which it constitutes a potential wish-fulfillment fantasy); and the-ever-great "The Cobweb," with gorgeous Impressionist colors and Gloria Grahame and Lillian Gish being really disagreeable, Richard Widmark channeling John Wayne's vocal cadences (really!) and a surprise appearance in the final quarter from Fay Wray! Whoo-hoo!


"I don't feel the weight of cinematic history behind him, but thousands of years of Chinese aesthetics, philosophy and culture."

Kent, I agree with this wholeheartedly. I was speaking specifically with respect to his cinematic influences, which I think were few and not too significant in their impact (basically, whomever Yang introduced him to - including Pasolini, Godard, and perhaps most intriguingly Visconti). But of course Hou has had his own more homegrown antecedents. One indelible, early inspiration for his style was the modernist novelist Shen Congwen, whom Hou was introduced to by Chu T'ien-wen before they made THE BOYS FROM FENGKUEI.

There are some translations of Shen's short stories, and one of his novels, available on Amazon. I still haven't sought them out yet, but it's on my immediate to-do list as soon as I graduate!

In any case, I think the lack of influence directly from other cinema points to one of the qualities that makes Hou's work so refreshing. Particularly in the two city films, it often feels as though he's reinventing the way we see in cinema, taking us back to the innocent, incidental camera-eye of the Freres Lumieres.

James Keepnews

I'm no Hou completist -- unlike, say, Joe Weerasethakul's works, which I can watch, transfixed, any old time, I really need to be in the right mood for Hou, and I haven't been a whole bunch recently. But I did catch FLIGHT and let me be all +1 about it. I probably read too much avatar (not, mind you, AVATAR) in the character of the film studies nanny, but it feels clear Hou's own distance from the culture, maybe even from original THE RED BALLOON, set up the structure of static privileged moments that are quite different than those in, say, FLOWERS, and far more starkly framed. Very different films, admittedly, but both slowly reveal their narrative hands and characters backstories/motivations in what feels like unforced real time. I found FLIGHT very touching, not least for Binoche's willingness to come off as a kvetchy diva and quite funny where that freaking balloon is concerned.

I am a little surprised by all the Binoche hate being slung around of late, notably including by M. Depardieu -- seems like many people wooke up one morning several decades apres le lettre and said, in unison "Waitaminute, she sucks!" But she doesn't -- if anything, she's iconic, Binoche = Binoche. Do we complain about a lack of emotional hysteria from Deneuve? I agree Haneke has utilized her talent best in CODE UNKNOWN and CACHE. I wouldn't want her switching roles with La Huppert, tu comprends, but I think from the moment I first noticed her in UNFORGETTABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING through, it would appear, CERTIFIED COPY she has commanded the screen and made it look like it ain't no thing. It might have been harder for her were she not so ridiculously gorgeous, but I guess we'll never know for sure, will we? I've been dying to see Ferrara's MARY since I first heard about it -- can anyone speak to her performance there?


This Binoche hate distresses me too! (I also love "La Voyage du Ballon Rouge".) I think she's is a great actress, with a very elusive, enigmatic quality. I think she what she does better than just about anybody is convey a sense of a character's interiority without seeming to do a whole lot. She reminds me of a younger Jeanne Moreau. And like Moreau, she's is racking up an insanely impressive list of auteur collaborations. I hear she'll be making a film with Bruno Dumont soon.


It should probably be pointed out that the rigidly controlled composition of FLOWERS OF SHANGHAI is atypical for Hou. From what I gather, he develops most of his films' scenarios, and the two city films particularly so, through on-set, or on-location, improvisation. What there is of a script bears only the outlines of the story action and is usually more for the benefit of Hou's technicians. But with FLOWERS, Hou chose to adapt a novel made up of an incredibly complex network of narratives, was forced to shoot exclusively on sets, and, most importantly, opted to preserve the source's 19th Century mandarin dialect. This means all the dialogue had to be scripted, and consequently each scene carefully plotted, in advance of shooting.

By contrast, FLIGHT OF THE RED BALLOON, to hear Binoche tell it (I asked her specifically about it when I saw the film at a TIFF screening in 07), was basically a free-for-all. Hou didn't direct her performance much if at all. There was a script that detailed what needed to happen in each scene, but otherwise no dialogue, no control of the tempo or sequence of events.

When those movers show up to carry the piano upstairs, that's real in the sense that none of her interaction with them was pre-orchestrated and the movers themselves are not actors. Someone called the moving company. The lifters came, did their job, and Binoche paid them real cash for the tip - all while the camera's were rolling.

She described it as perhaps the most liberating acting experience of her career.


Also re RED BALLOON, that scene with the piano tuner, in which, as he works, slowly plonking note by note and adjusting, and plonking some more, gradually all of the surrounding drama harmonizes? OMG! the whole movie would be worth it for that alone.

warren oates

I suppose it was a lack of, I don't know, what's the word for it?--DIRECTING--that I sensed in RED BALLOON. Thanks to edo and some of the others for setting me straight on that. Hou definitely has something great, some kind of talent and vision that I connect with, even if it doesn't always make for great films the whole way through. There's little throwaway bathroom scene in GOOD MEN, GOOD WOMEN that means the world to me, where a girlfriend playfully messes with her man as he's taking a sleepy wake-up piss.

Gordon Cameron

Lex's opinion about Binoche can be traced to the word "hag." If she were 17 he'd love her. He has no interest in actresses he doesn't lust after.


Edo, what a cool story re. Binoche on RED BALLOON...the scenes in the apartment are some of the most memorable, for me, of that movie. Naturalistic and yet deliberate, focused. I love FLOWERS as much as the next guy, but one thing I've come to cherish in Hou is his mutability, his acute sensitivity to the particular needs/potential of each project. He's rigorous, but not rigid in his approach - the points made by Edo and Jones are all well-taken.

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