Kiarostami Continues to Mesmerize with ‘Like Someone in Love’

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Average: 5 (1 vote) Oscarman rating: 4.0/5.0
Rating: 4.0/5.0

CHICAGO – Minor Abbas Kiarostami is still a reason for celebration. While the internationally acclaimed auteur’s latest work, “Like Someone in Love,” opening tomorrow at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago, is a bit more frustrating than his best films (“Certified Copy,” “The Wind Will Carry Us”), it still contains such confident, intriguing filmmaking that it merits consideration for your movie dollar this weekend.

An Asian cousin to the European “Certified Copy,” “Like Someone in Love” often begs for similar degrees of interpretation and, once again, it feels like Kiarostami is purposefully trying to make a specific reading of the film impossible, asking viewers to become engrossed in theme more than plot. His reliance on long takes, natural lighting, crowd noise, and other trademarks of his style lend an air of importance to everything, as if we should be asking ourselves “what this means,” when the answer may mean that it should be read much more literally than a specific interpretation requires. That’s how I feel about “Certified Copy,” one of my favorite films of the ’10s and a work that I think only gets better when you stop trying to figure it out.

Like Someone in Love
Like Someone in Love
Photo credit: Sundance Selects

To be fair, while it definitely has some intentionally obtuse storytelling elements, “Like Somone in Love” also feels like a straightforward piece of work than “Copy.” However, it instantly feels cut from the same cloth. The first scene, a 14-minute one in a restaurant, consists of two angles, one pointing at our heroine and one, sort of from her viewpoint but also sort of not, looking at the crowd in the establishment. One is instantly reminded of the restaurant scenes in “Copy.” Similarly, Kiarostami loves travel, exemplified by long takes in cars or walking. When a character is told that a trip will be an hour car ride, I half-expected the entire hour to be in the film.

Said car ride carries Akiko (Rin Takanashi) to her latest job, one she fights doing in that opening scene. While the majority of that scene centers on her lying to her boyfriend over the phone as to where she is, her real secret is not just that she’s not with him but that she’s a high-priced escort. As she rides in the cab to her assignment, she listens to the voice mails left her by her grandmother, a woman who has come to visit her in Tokyo but who Aki can’t bring herself to even pick up at the train station because of the shame regarding her profession.

Like Someone in Love
Like Someone in Love
Photo credit: Sundance Selects

When Aki arrives at her latest client’s house, he is a surprising john, a kindly old man named Takashi (Tadashi Okuno), a retired professor who likes books and jazz records. All he wants to do is talk or feed the young girl. He does not seem t all to want the job for which Akiko is so clearly uninspired to do in the first place. Aki falls asleep in the old man’s bed and spends the night. Takashi ends up taking Aki back into the city the next day only to find her boyfriend (Ryo Kase), who mistakes the john for Aki’s grandfather. The two play along with the ruse and, just as in “Certified Copy,” the roles people play in relationships define the filmmaker’s themes even as they get hazier.

Long takes, conversations that seem to ignore preconceived roles (the chit-chat between escort and client when Aki gets to the professor’s apartment is startlingly off-topic), and a filmmaker interested in complex human relationships — this is definitely a Kiarostami film. I’m not sure how thematically it fits together and must admit that I longed for a little something more to grab on to (having more difficulty letting go here, especially in the first hald, than in “Copy”). Does Aki seem to like being a companion to Takashi because she fails her grandmother to the degree that she can’t even pick her up? What does that mean that she can emotionally replace an old woman stranded at a train station with an old man who pays for her company? Why does Takashi seem protective of her or even order an escort in the first place when he’s so clearly not interested in sex? Once again, I’m not sure these question have concrete answers but I liked the way Kiarostami plays with them.

Like Someone in Love
Like Someone in Love
Photo credit: Sundance Selects

Mostly. I feel like “Like Someone in Love” is sometimes a bit too frigid, replacing the warm environments of Tuscany in “Copy” with the cold neon of Tokyo. While there is warmth in the characters (and all the performances here are stellar, especially the lovely Takanashi), the story kept me at arm’s length more than I wanted. However, I must admit I was more put off by the first act than the subsequent ones (and think the sudden ending is downright hysterical in that it is where most filmmakers would end their second act, not the entire film).

That long opening take, Aki listening to her messages — the film really doesn’t allow the viewer in at all until the conversation at Takashi’s, where Akiko really breaks her first smile and the two bond over a pretty-bad joke that neither gets. And then it gets going again when the third act begins with the arrival of Kase (also quite good here), even if that comes in a too-long scene between the two male actors of the piece. It’s a film that works its way under your skin, starting off with apprehensive characters and likely-apprehensive viewers, but I found myself engrossed by the ambiguous ending. Maybe not in love, but in deep, deep like.

“Like Someone in Love” stars Rin Takanashi, Tadashi Okuno, and Ryo Kase. It was written and directed by Abbas Kiarostami. It opens at the Music Box Theatre tomorrow, March 1, 2013. content director Brian Tallerico

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