Kiarostami’s 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 2010’s Certified Copy, in reality the films couldn’t 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 director’s own Close-Up and you have a cinematic experience quite unlike anything else out there at the moment, and it’s easy to see why at last year’s Cannes Film Festival many proclaimed Kiarostami’s latest a masterpiece while others sat there scratching their heads wondering what all the fuss was about.
The story initially appears simple enough. College student Akiko (Rin Takanashi) is shy and reserved, facts that make her moonlighting as a high-priced escort surprising. She’s 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 Ariko’s 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 know one another.
That’s straightforward enough, but the movie glides in and out of this narrative in some rather startling and emotionally complicated ways. Kiarostami’s script mirrors reality but never fully embraces it, the filmmaker crafting a starkly beautiful, if continually unsettling, mirror world that shows things in a hazy half-light that mixes truth, fantasy and reality in something close to equal measure. It’s hypnotic, chilling, romantic, rapturous and distancing, the director never allowing the viewer to gain equal footing with his main protagonists keeping us off-balance almost right from the moment Akiko initially enters Takashi’s home.
The reserved pacing is a signature of Kiarostami’s, but that doesn’t 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 haven’t seen from Kiarostami, 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 didn’t see coming.
The movie looks spectacular. Cinematographer Katsumi Yanagijima (Outrage) captures Tokyo in a way that recalls Christopher Doyle’s work for Wong Kar Wai, yet at the same time the icy veneer is crisp, clean and invigoratingly unique, delivering a visual punch that’s strikingly immersive. Better is Reza Narimazadeh’s (A Separation) richly evolving sound design, every acoustic piece feeding another one allowing for subtle audio clues that signify Kiarostami’s true intent as to where the line between fantasy and reality truly lies.
There is a moderate emotional aloofness that is admittedly noticeable, and the journeys Akiko and Takashi find themselves on don’ always clearly resonate. Nonetheless, Like Someone in Love, freestyling and evolving much like the jazz standard that inspired the title, is a refreshing blend of heart, lust, longing, desire, family and friendship I couldn’t take my eyes off of. Kiarostami proves once again he is one of the true cinematic titans working today, and even with minor reservations his latest is a masterful excursion into existential consciousness I’ll happily drown myself within again relatively soon.
Film Rating: 3½ (out of 4)