Like Someone in Love (Sundance Selects/IFC Films, NR)

likesomeone 75In his second departure from his native Iran (Certified Copy was filmed in Tuscany), Like Someone in Love is set in Tokyo.

 

 

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Abbas Kiarostami is a tough filmmaker to be a fan of. Not that that keeps me from it, but once you think you have him and his style pinned down, he off and does something else. We’re not talking about a regular genre-hopper here; from film to film Kiarostami seems to start nearly from scratch, especially these days, with the biggest recurring theme amongst his body of work being that you don’t exactly know what’s going on, and that it is intended that you feel this way.

Look back to his breakthrough picture in the West, 1990’s Close-Up, which is a nice halfway point between documentary and narrative forms—you never really know if what you’re seeing is fact or fiction. Then, his most recent release stateside, 2010’s Certified Copy, is purely fiction, but you’re unclear just how to suspend your disbelief, on account of a serious curveball that comes partway through the movie involving the two main characters and their relationship to one another. So going into his new release, Like Someone in Love, it’s hard not to brace yourself to be confused for a while, if not for the duration of the picture.

As it happens, Like Someone in Love feels a lot more straightforward than either Close-Up or Certified Copy, and one recalls that Kiarostami’s best films, 1997’s Taste of Cherry and 1999’s The Wind Will Carry Us, aren’t as willfully discombobulating as those that are fresher in the collective memory. In his second departure from his native Iran (Certified Copy was filmed in Tuscany), Like Someone in Love is set in Tokyo, and concerns a young high-end escort named Akiko (Rin Takanashi) and her relationship with a trick, an eightysomething widower named Takashi (Tadashi Okuno) who, before retiring, was a much-beloved professor, including of Akiko’s current pimp. 

While Akiko is positioned as the film’s main character, and is in nearly always on the screen at any given time, the film is really Takashi’s: He’s the most endearing, relatable, and human figure in the film. Like how johns are often portrayed in movies, Takashi appears to just be lonely, which is why he calls on the companionship of escorts—he seems to have no interest in having sex with Akiko at all, and even seems embarrassed by the idea of it. Meanwhile, he researches where she is from (in a non-creepy way) before she comes to his apartment, and makes her a dinner that is the specialty of her hometown. Even when Akiko refuses it, saying she never liked it as a kid, Takashi remains unfailingly polite and unfazed.

Most of the drama in the film comes not from Akiko and Takashi’s relationship, though, but instead in the form of Akiko’s fiancée Noriaki (Ryō Kase), whom Takashi runs into in a chance encounter while waiting for Akiko to run an errand at her school. Noriaki is seen being physically abusive to Akiko nearly right away, but he’s nice to Takashi, whom he assumes is Akiko’s grandfather. And when he’s not mad at Akiko about something-or-other, Noriaki seems sweet and likeable enough, though some tension comes from the fact that he’s always just a breath away from finding out the true nature of Akiko and Takashi’s relationship.

The most obvious comparison here is to Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience, in that they’re both arty films about prostitutes that feature no nudity (thereby alienating most of those who seek out films about prostitutes, which I find amusing) and loooooong set pieces—all told, there are probably only half a dozen or so scenes in Like Someone in Love, and they’re all much longer and slower-paced than you’ve come to expect from watching American movies all your life. Between the two I probably prefer The Girlfriend Experience, but really these two films are pretty similar in quality, so if you like one you’d probably like the other. 

That said, if you’ve liked Kiarostami’s previous films, I can’t guarantee that you’ll like this one. There’s no real precedent for it that I’ve seen in his oeuvre, and while it’s nice to see him branch out, I’m distantly sad to see him continue making films outside of Iran, given that he’s long been my favorite Iranian filmmaker. All the same, Like Someone in Love is a pretty good film, but prepare not to be confused—which I can’t help but feel disappointed by on some level. | Pete Timmermann

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