[25 June 2014]
Abbas Kiarostami is an inarguable master at depicting the observed identity. And while his career was slow to gain traction in Western cinephile circles, he’s now widely considered one of the truest auteurs of the modern generation, specifically because of the singular way he approaches the craft. His films almost exclusively deal in obscuring reality and blurred identities, usually with the former creating the later, or vice-versa.
His most successful film in America is probably 2010’s Certified Copy, a sublime work that takes his signature traits to such ecstatic purisms that virtually anything following it would seem like something of a disappointment. That film is Like Someone in Love, and indeed it is somewhat disappointing. But articulating why is hard to do outside of the context of Kiarostami’s signature.
The titular someone in question is likely Akiko (Rin Takanashi), a Japanese university student who moonlights as a high class escort. She sits in a slick restaurant awaiting an appointment from her “manager”, all the while bemoaning pervasive communications from her boyfriend and the fact that she needs to study for an exam. Finally she agrees to take a late-night client and crawls into a taxi for a long trip towards an uncertain fate.
It seems as though the situation might be ominous, but there’s nothing that particularly points that way other than a lack of details. In the film’s most beautiful sequence, a medium sized close-up frames Akiko on the lengthy trip, only rarely straying from her anxious face. The narrative and stylistic stasis frame the young woman, both literally and figuratively, as a confused and melancholic creature. She listens to missed voicemails from her visiting grandmother, the elderly voice increasingly saddened by each missed opportunity.
Akiko eventually reaches her customer’s home, and elderly man named Takashi (Tadashi Okuno). Apart from the fact that we know the man hired a prostitute, he seems entirely harmless and endearing. He continually tries to engage Akiko in warm conversation even as she attempts to expedite the inevitable. In true Kiarostami fashion, the continued dialogue creates subtle ambiguities about the relationship between the two.
She retires for the night without any consecration, probably much to the relief of the host. Morning is a new day, and the two exchange polite niceties after their somewhat awkward introduction. Akiko’s jealous boyfriend enters the mix, but aside from further ambiguous interrelations, little changes in the dramatic thrust, and the film ends as many of Kiarostami’s do; with little resolution and further questions.
In relationship to his catalogue, Like Someone in Love doesn’t measure up, particularly because of its familiarity. The ground tread here is familiar, and aside from the stunning cinematography, the narrative conceit consistent in most of Kiarostami’s work ultimately fails. In comparison to a film like Certified Copy, Like Someone in Love feels almost entirely joyless. And while comparing them may be a fruitless endeavor, Kiarostami welcomes the analysis precisely because of the ubiquity with which he exploits familiar themes; who are these people and how are they connected?
Which begs the question: is the film less successful because Kiarostami is so great? Would it be better received outside of the context of his greater catalogue? The answer to both is undoubtedly yes. After finishing one of Kiarostami’s films there’s that inevitable rush of excitement in knowing that a true piece of art just came into your life. The process of getting there is usually challenging but rewarding.
In his newest, those qualities are notably absent. Because of Kiarostami’s unique vision, one feels a predisposition to look for unspoken truths beneath the surface. That process occurs here as well, with the key difference being the comparative empty-handedness.
The new 3.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on Criterion’s newly furnished release augments Kiarostami’s unassuming propensity for reflection. Each sound, as is each glance and reflection, is given its proper weight. Also included is an extensive documentary on the making of the film that helps illustrate some of the director’s motives for making the film, as well as his approach to cinema in general. The features are relatively light on this Criterion release, but the film otherwise speaks for itself.