Kiarostamiís Love an Existential Mystery
If you think you know all there is to about Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami be prepared to learn just how wrong you are. While on the surface his latest foray into the world of international cinema Like Someone in Love bears similarities with 2010ís Certified Copy, in reality the films couldnít be any more different. This journey into Japanese society and mores is one part Lost in Translation, another part Pretty Woman and a final smattering of the works of the legendary Yasujiro Ozu. Add in deft touches recalling everything from Vertigo to Chungking Express to the directorís own Close-Up and you have a cinematic experience quite unlike just about anything else out there at the moment, and itís easy to see at last yearís Cannes Film Festival many proclaimed Kiarostamiís latest a masterpiece while others sat there scratching their heads wondering what all the fuss was about.
Rin Takanashi in Like Someone in Love © IFC Films
The story seems simple enough. College student Akiko (Rin Takanashi) is shy and reserved, facts that make her moonlighting as a high-priced escort somewhat surprising. Sheís sent by her boss to the home of elderly sociology professor Takashi (Tadashi Okuno), and what she assumes is going to be nothing more than a night of quiet conversation and sex turns into something altogether more relaxed. The next morning at University Arikoís boyfriend Noriaki (Ryo Kase) mistakes Takashi for her grandfather, the pair deciding to let the deception stand instead of answering potentially embarrassing questions as to why they truthfully know one another.
Simple enough, but the movie glides in and out of this narrative in some rather startling and emotionally complicated ways. Kiarostamiís script mirrors reality but never fully embraces it, the filmmaker crafting a starkly beautiful, if continually slightly unsettling, mirror world that shows things in a hazy half-light that mixes truth, fantasy and reality in close to equal measure. Itís hypnotic, chilling, romantic, rapturous and distancing, sometimes all at once, the director never allowing the viewer to gain equal footing with his main protagonists keeping us off-balance almost right from the moment Akiko enters into Takashiís home.
The reserved pacing is a signature of Kiarostamiís, but that doesnít mean the movie is slow. If anything, he is paying direct homage to Ozu, using his own cultural and personal esthetics to tell a story the iconic Japanese director of Late Spring and Tokyo Story might have deigned to explore himself once upon a time. But the end game is something we havenít seen from Kiarostami before, and the place all of this is heading is a surprise, the energies and desires of the characters coming full circle in a way I honestly can admit I didnít entirely see coming.
The movie looks spectacular. Cinematographer Katsumi Yanagijimaís (Outrage) captures Tokyo in a way that canít help but recall Christopher Doyleís work for Wong Kar Wai yet at the same time the icy veneer is crisp, clean and in many ways unique in and of itself. Better is Reza Narimazadehís (A Separation) richly involving sound design, every piece feeding another one allowing for subtle clues signifying much of Kiarostamiís true intent.
There is a moderate emotional aloofness to everything that is admittedly noticeable, and the journeys Akiko and Takashi find themselves on donít always resonate as clearly as I kept hoping they would. Nonetheless, Like Someone in Love, freestyling and weaving much like the jazz standard that inspired the title, is a refreshing blend of heart, lust, longing, desire, family and friendship I couldnít take my eyes off of. Kiarostami proves once again he is one of the true cinematic titans working today, and even with minor reservations here and there his latest is a masterful excursion into existential consciousness Iíll happily drown myself within relatively soon.
Film Rating: ÍÍÍ1/2 (out of 4)