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Abbas Kiarostami is an Iranian film artist. If you love cinema and are unfamiliar with him or his work, it would be a great idea to check him out. I tend to think of  Kiarostami as a sort of softer and more gentle Michael Haneke. However, the need to categorize people and art is usually to short-change both the artist and the work. Kiarostami is probably best known to us in the West as the writer/director of CERTIFIED COPY (Copie conforme) — both an intelligent and intellectual cinematic puzzle about two people who are either doing some hardcore role-playing or who share a love torn past. The puzzle of that film is never fully resolved. It is left to the audience to draw a conclusion.

In 2012, Kiarostami released a French-Japanese financed experimental film called LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE. It was greeted with critical acclaim but received almost no distribution. This masterful film has found its way to DVD/Blu-Ray via Criterion. I had seen all of his work excepting this film. I should have known better to approach this movie with no expectations, but I did. As I started watching it I was preparing myself for the story of a young prostitute and a hook-up with an old man. This was what I had come to understand regarding the synopsis of LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE.

Rin Takanashi as Akiko

Rin Takanashi as Akiko

But after the opening scene I found myself being pulled into the film in a rare way.  This entire film is shot on video and Katsumi Yanagijima’s cinematography manages to use this medium as a positive vs. a negative. The entire film has a sort of hypnotic pull. As with Polanski’s ROSEMARY’S BABY, I often found myself turning my head or leaning to the side to try and see more of the picture. This is a very clever cinematic trick.

As I would expect, I was slightly confused at the start. The camera is still. It is, at first, unmoving. The viewer is the camera and we are seated in a cafe of some sort. We hear a frustrated young woman on her cell phone. Characters walk around, toward and in front of us as this conversation continues. The viewer comes to realize that we are actually seeing from the perspective of the character we hear frustratingly chatting on the phone. The character speaking into the phone is Akiko played with stark realism by Rin Takanashi. Her voice and tone are predictable. She sounds like a slight girl. A man works his way toward her. This man has some authority and very little patience with Akiko. The viewer begins to understand that this man is some sort of pimp and no matter her excuses he has arranged for her to meet an important client just outside of Tokyo that evening. The conversation is almost passively muted. When the pimp takes a quiet but firm stand and informs Akiko that she will go and please this important client, the almost quiet atmosphere is shattered by a very angry and adult-sounding female voice declaring that she will not go. I am not quite sure how to articulate it, but the second I heard that voice and the camera perspective shifted to reveal that Akiko has been speaking with purposefully-tuned little girl voice — I knew Kiarostami was about to lead me into a very different story than I was expecting.

Tadashi Okuno as the important client.

Tadashi Okuno as the important client.

There will be no spoilers here. Suffice to say that what often feels like a passive and quiet little film is actually running with a paradoxically aggressive and raging undertone.  And, as we meet the three main characters we begin to think we have each one figured out or “appropriately labeled” — but by the time the film comes to its conclusion we realize we never really fully knew much about any of them. This, of course, is the power of LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE. There is so much more going on than we realize as it is going. Once again, Kiarostami has crafted another sort of cultural puzzle. And, I do not mean that this film is a study of Japanese culture. It is not.

Ryō Kase gives yet another memorable turn as the boyfriend.

Ryō Kase gives yet another memorable turn as the boyfriend.

This is an almost sociological study of the human condition and factors that can often lead us to something unexpected. In fact, both the “john” and the prostitute have ties to the study of Sociology. The competition between this film’s passive tone/pace and its aggressive underlying tension is deceptive. As the credits rolled I was absolutely floored by how surprised I felt. I found myself retracing the steps of the film in my mind and began to think of the minor clues we were given by the actions of each character. While some of the actions were obvious — such as the angry, suspicious jealousy of  Akiko’s boyfriend played with the charismatic skill for which Ryō Kase is quickly becoming known — in hindsight it was the smaller gestures and comments that really factor in as clues to where the filmmaker leads us.

Watching her sleep...

Watching her sleep…

Lending her a helping hand...

Lending her a helping hand…

Confronting her...

Confronting her…

In the end, this is an exceptional experimental bit of film art that is an interestingly passive and profoundly disturbing glimpse into humanity. Once again, Abbas Kiarostami has created a potent and unforgettable cinematic work.

"...Sometimes the things I do astound me, mostly whenever you're around me..." -- Ella Fitzgerald

“…Sometimes the things I do astound me, mostly whenever you’re around me…” — Ella Fitzgerald

This is a movie you will want to watch carefully. You don’t want to stumble over things or miss out noticing something. I mean, you don’t want to watch this film like someone in love.

Werner Herzog  Photograph | Bil Zelman

Werner Herzog
Photograph | Bil Zelman

I spend far too much of my time walking the beach and The Haight.  In fact, in recent months many of the folks who work at Amoeba Records in San Francisco have come to know me and my tastes. Today, I was looking through their blu-ray art film selection. As I was examining a rather suspect used David Lynch blu-ray of ERASERHEAD when one of the Amoeba dudes said, “Yo, man. Did you know that Shout Factory is releasing a blu-ray box set of Werner Herzog film?”  I did know this and the two of us began to chat about Werner Herzog and the upcoming box set of classic movies.

Shout Factory's Limited Edition of Herzog: The Collection

Shout Factory’s Limited Edition of Herzog: The Collection

I adore Herzog’s work and I never pass up an opportunity to read or listen to him. An extremely gifted and unique artist, Herzog is also that rare person who appears to be both intellectual and intelligent. He is also just to the left of sane which always makes for a fascinating perspective on any topic he might drift into. From eating shoes to health clubs, Werner Herzog is always entertaining and informative. The man is a natural storyteller and would seem to have absolutely no fear.  He has also crafted some of the most intriguing films of the 20th Century. Like many film artists of his generation, while he is a cinematic genius — he is also prone to wallowing in his own obsessive interests. Of course, this is a part of a filmmaker’s charm. It can also be something that often drags his work down to the point of tedium and excess.

In my opinion, he is the only filmmaker who ever managed to tango unforgettable and powerful work from Klaus Kinski. He even re-examined their notorious relationship in a strange documentary.

Herzog and Kinski in the middle of one of their infamous on-set battles.

Herzog and Kinski in the middle of one of their infamous on-set battles.

1999’s MY BEST FRIEND is a brilliantly entertaining exploration not only into his dear friend/enemy, Klaus Kinski, but also a revealing self-examination. Whether or not everything he tells us is true or exaggerated is not important. That is all a part of Herzog’s cinematic ride.  This film is included in the massive Shout Factory box set. The only point I would make is that this was not a film that really needed a remaster to hi-def technology. Nor, like many of Herzog’s films, it is something I would imagine watching again. Once was enough. For me, the same can be said of nearly every film he has made.

There are three exceptions:

AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD – A masterful and stunningly beautiful trip of a movie that I could watch over and over again.

FITZCARRALDO – Once again, a meditative and intense glimpse into obsession and man vs. nature. This I have seen a couple of times. However, it does tend to go a bit too long.

NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE – Now, this is my personal favorite Herzog film.

I know there will be people who will mention GRIZZLY MAN. And, I completely agree regarding the power and brilliance of that documentary. However, it was upsetting enough the first time I viewed it. I don’t think I’m up for watching that tragedy again. Besides, it is one of the few films missing from the box set.

NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE is the perfect storm of a Werner Herzog film. Released in 1979, I did see it with my father. I was 13 and I was immediately drawn into the screen, imagery and sounds.

NOSFERATU: The Vampyre Werner Herzog | 1979 Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein  Cinematography

NOSFERATU: The Vampyre
Werner Herzog | 1979
Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein

Despite critical acclaim, I suppose this film was just a bit too “artsy” and surreal to work for the American Box Office at the time. I remember my father bitching that there was no fucking, no nudity and no gore. My twisted father was not happy with it. However, I loved it. At some point in the early 1990’s I was able to catch a screening of this film at The Harvard Film Archive. I was probably about 25 years of age and not only did I still love it — I understood what I was seeing.

Bruno Ganz & Isabelle Adjani gothically walk the shore...

Bruno Ganz & Isabelle Adjani gothically walk the shore…

The role of Nosferatu was perfect for Klaus Kinski. Being a rather deluded method actor, Kinski was forced to subdue himself to the movements of the despairing living dead afraid of the sun. Kinski is hypnotic in the role. He is also the creepiest Count the cinema has seen. At once painfully human and an equally reptilian-like monster roaming the dark. Isabelle Adjani is actually more walking dead than Nosferatu but impossibly beautiful in the most disturbing of ways — under Herzog’s command, she is really little more than a gothic porcelain doll waiting to be a victim. And, this was the last time we would see Bruno Ganz still looking kind of hot. Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein captures every movement with incredible light and scope. All the while, Werner Herzog is pushing the limits of his story to create atmosphere and metaphor within the limitless boundaries of his dark imagination and the Art of Cinematic Surrealism.

Adjani, Kinski & Herzog  Delft, The Netherlands On Set | 1978 Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein Photograph Credit

Adjani, Kinski & Herzog
Delft, The Netherlands
On Set | 1978
Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein
Photograph Credit

Luckily, The Shout Factory, had the insight to know that not all of us would be willing to spend $160.00 for 12 disc set to own one movie. They are issuing NOSFERATU: THE VAMPYRE separate from the box set. It is retailing for $24.99. And, I can’t wait!

Of course, there will be many cinephiles who will rush to secure the full box set. And, who can possibly blame them. Artists like Werner Herzog appeal to those of us who are to the left of center and a bit obsessive. It’s just this isn’t the artist that would drive me to watch his work repeatedly. Now, give me a properly re-mastered box set of Ken Russell, David Lynch, Claire Denis, Luis Buñuel, Claude Chabrol or David Cronenberg — and I will be first in line!

Isabelle Adjani waiting for Mr. Kinski's bite...

Isabelle Adjani waiting for Mr. Kinski’s bite…

Meanwhile, I have been putting away $5 a week for a month now to reserve my copy. Being unemployed and on Disability is no fun, kids. But this is $25 purchase will be worth it! But I raise my glass of Diet Coke to those of you who will be purchasing the full box set. …Better order now because The Shout Factor is a Boutique Label that does not exaggerate.  It is a limited edition. Word on the street is that they are only pressing one thousand box sets.

Nosferatu coming out of the dark to leave an imprint on your cinematic memory.

Nosferatu coming out of the dark to leave an imprint on your cinematic memory.