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AFI FEST 2010: A Certified First Impression

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AFI FEST 2010: A <em>Certified</em> First Impression

The AFI FEST, running from November 4 - 11, has become the one opportunity for West Coast viewers to taste what the rest of the film world has been chewing on for the previous six months. The 2010 edition, especially noteworthy because David Lynch is the Guest Artistic Director, will screen many high profile buzz films (albeit only once each) from an impressive lineup of essential international filmmakers. While the Galas and Tribute section remains intrinsically mainstream, with the Oscar bait-y opening-night film Love and Other Drugs by AFI alum Edward Zwick, Darren Aronofsky’s much anticipated Black Swan, and a host of other late-season award’s contenders, the World Cinema and New Auteurs programs are flushed with enigmatic and challenging choices. Two stunning masterpieces, Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, will be at the front of many schedule wish lists, but if you’re unable to nab tickets, both should be released sometime in 2011.

The savvy filmgoer will target those films without distribution, like prolific Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo’s double-threat entries (Oki’s Movie, Hahaha) and the latest digital conundrum from legendary French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard (Film Socialisme). There’s also a rare opportunity to see both versions of The Housemaid back to back, starting with Kim Ki-young’s 1960 original followed by Im Sang-soo’s 2010 remake. The latest films from Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan, Werner Herzog, John Sayles, Takeshi Miike, Lee Chang-dong, Takeshi Kitano, and a host of up-and-coming directors will also be screened. As an added bonus, Lynch has programmed some of his favorite films as a sidebar series, including Kubrick’s Lolita, Hitchcock’s Rear Window, and Tati’s Mon Oncle.

Southern Californians take note: This year’s festival screenings are free, so check with the AFI website for updates about newly released batches of tickets. My coverage begins today, but an advanced press screening has allowed me to review one film (maybe the best of the fest) early: Certified Copy.

The flag of marriage flies at half-mast in Kiarostami’s beguiling Certified Copy, blowing in a deceptively calm breeze that reveals familiar memories posing as misleading hopes for nostalgia. A walk through a disintegrating family album, this awe-inspiring film is both deceptive and agile, setting up a simple conversation between two educated souls as an analogy for human disconnection. Author James Miller (William Shimell) has a keen knack for academic argument, and proves this skill throughout his time with Elle (Juliette Binoche), a beautiful admirer of his book on the perceived value of replica artwork. The two traverse the side streets and back alleys of Tuscany, dipping into deep philosophical conversations and visiting museums. Sunshine and shadows are equally on display as James and Elle duck into regional spaces so finely detailed it’s hard to imagine any more perfect place for a chat. That is until Kiarostami rips the rug out from under us, positioning the viewer right in the middle of a most uncomfortable realization. This narrative split defines Certified Copy as a diptych in contrasting forms of social expression, but also an orchestra of competing tones within rich word-driven set pieces. Their clever musings are initially so inquisitive and knowing, but these friendly volleys transition into deadly daggers, turning even the most pristine and romantic settings into contorted spaces of delusional grandeur.

Kiarostami’s sun drenched visuals are wondrous, bleached in a kind of hazy quiet that unearths the character’s hopeful heart before tainting them in figurative darkness. The detailed frame is often situated around three different areas of focus, a textural organism drifting our attention to include multiple gazes simultaneously. The most haunting example of these visual cross sections comes midway through the film, as James sits outside a waiting room while Elle talks to a newlywed couple about a superstitious museum exhibit, where a bride and groom supposedly must come for good luck on their wedding day. As James waits impatiently for his companion, the reflection of another bride can be seen on the left hand side of the frame, creating three planes of existence that display a timeline of matrimonial contradiction. In juxtaposing these extreme moments of feeling, Kiarostami observes the natural crisis always residing under the façade of life’s necessary rites of passage, and the terrible thought that even on our happiest day, impulses and doubt still play a role in shaping our identity. It seems time can stand still for a few moments as we revisit old relics of a past long forgotten, but the underlining hollowness is always present. Certified Copy slowly unveils this elemental and contradictory pull between couples and their hidden memories, but also the diabolical opposing forces that threaten to separate soul mates for good.

AFI FEST 2010 runs from November 4 – 11. For more information, click here.