Film Review: Like Someone in Love

A companion piece to <i>Certified Copy</i> but reminiscent of<i> Taste of Cherry, Like Someone in Love </i>falls somewhere between those celebrated Kiarostami signature pieces, yet his new film has a sense and style of its own.

Watching Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami’s films, at least his most recent, is like reading palimpsests, the parchment scrolls ancients used as tablets, erasing old texts to make way for new: We see the faint remains of expunged words ghosting through the writing on the surface. So, too, with Kiarostami’s characters, who coyly adopt identities, often in service of flirtation, even as they profess authenticity. They turn practical realities and existential worldviews into self-serving fabrications like meta-magicians.

Like Someone in Love, the auteur’s second feature shot outside his native country, opens in a bar in Tokyo as a young woman, initially unseen, is heard struggling to convince her boyfriend that she is telling the truth about her whereabouts and availability, although it quickly becomes apparent she is lying, and in fact is living a lie. Even the viewer is seduced by the ruse. We at first believe that Akiko (Rin Takanashi), a college student, moonlights as an escort to finance her studies and, for obvious reasons, keeps her work secret. As the film unfolds, we learn that, more likely, she is a prostitute studying desultorily at the university. Despite her guileless vulnerability, a trait we reflexively associate with exploited girls, we come to wonder if she shares responsibility for the not entirely unexpected but nevertheless shocking climax of the movie.

Akiko has been fobbing off her jealous boyfriend, Noriaki (Ryo Kase), because she must go on a call—one can debate whether she is forced or cajoled—with a client who lives in the suburbs, and who turns out to be a retired sociology professor. Takashi (Tadashi Okuno) could be Akiko’s grandfather and, after a confused night at his apartment, assumes that role when Noriaki confronts them the next day. While Takashi rationalizes his role-playing as a way of protecting Akiko from her hothead fiancé (as Noriaki calls himself), he clearly relishes the intimacy the lie creates between him and Akiko, as well as the opportunity it presents him to pontificate on the nature of mature relationships. “When you know you’re being lied to,” Takashi tells Noriaki, “it’s best not to ask questions.”

As he did in his previous feature, Certified Copy (filmed in Tuscany in French, Italian and English…the conflation of languages and cultures, like identities, has become his trademark), Kiarostami brings together two strangers for a few hours during which they reimagine themselves, perhaps revealing their true natures, perhaps creating alternate personas. The tête-à-têtes take on existences of their own, becoming dramas that unfold as stories within stories. The director’s cinematographers (Katsumi Yanagijima for Like Someone in Love and Luca Bigazzi for Certified Copy) visualize his multiplicities by filming through glass or before mirrors, blending reflections, refracting emotions, abetting disorientation. In one extended scene, as Akiko rides in a taxi through Tokyo listening to her grandmother’s pleading voicemail messages and the colored lights of the city flash across her face, we seem to be spying on her most intimate feelings through a kaleidoscope. As in Certified Copy and, more memorably, his first international hit and Palme d’Or winner Taste of Cherry, Kiarostami sets most of the movie inside automobiles…he keeps his subjects in motion, another instance of the literal and figurative converging.

Like Someone in Love (the title comes from the jazz standard, sung by Ella Fitzgerald, which plays during Takashi and Akiko’s assignation) is a movie for cineastes, not only because it will try the patience of audiences who want more narrative and less introspection, but also because Kiarostami, with his visual nods to Ozu, reminds us of his status as a global filmmaker (which includes a documentary set in Africa). World cinema, like world literature and world music, isn’t always a draw for American audiences. Film buffs, however, will flock to this talented but demanding director’s latest effort, and so they should. Elegantly lensed, eloquently scripted, with its unusual and sure to be controversial climax, Like Someone in Love does what it sets out to, make us wonder about who we are and why we do the things we do. As the song goes, “Sometimes the things I do astound me.”