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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.