DIRECTED BY: Abbas Kiarostami
FEATURING: Tadashi Okuno, Rin Takanashi, Ryo Kase
PLOT: Akiko is a young female student moonlighting as a call girl; her pimp sends her on an assignment in the suburbs, where her client, Takashi, is an elderly professor who doesn’t seem terribly interested in her carnal services. When he deigns to drive her back to the city the next day, he begins to take on an unexpectedly intimate role in her life, becoming personally involved in her troubled relationship with Noriaki, her possessive boyfriend.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The weirdest thing about Like Someone in Love is that it eschews the most predictable filmmaking conventions: a traditional narrative arc, gratifying resolution, and explanatory coherence. This results in a powerful film, but not one that breaks dramatically with film language or narrative logic. It’s a moody, sensitive character study with the rhythms of an art film, not a groundbreaking work of cinematic weirdness.
COMMENTS: Like Someone in Love doesn’t have much of a traditional narrative arc, and it doesn’t play much with our expectations… as a result, there’s a pronounced lack of suspense and release, a tendency to eschew those kinds of narrative pleasures that normally attend these things we call “movies.” In a way, it feels more like a self-contained art object, a constellation of characters and relationships that’s designed to intrigue the active mind.
There’s nothing so radical about the film that it should de facto qualify for the Weird Movies list. Its organic rhythms and intentional ambiguity should be familiar to anyone who’s seen some art films. On its own merits, though, it’s a masterful work of cinema, an ideal case study in style, technical proficiency, and unified vision.
One of the great things about Like Someone in Love is how it demonstrates the strength of this kind of ambiguous, minimalist filmmaking: within its naturalistic treatment of its subjects, it creates huge fertile spaces for the proliferation of symbolic meanings and psychological resonance. It’s shot painstakingly, with the camera always intensely aware of its space. Doorways, reflections, confined interiors, obstructions, and the space outside the frame: all these become Kiarostami’s playthings. In his control of objects and the camera’s eye, he is reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick, whose style was similarly deliberate, ostensibly naturalistic, but profoundly self-aware.
The result of this high level of control is that many objects take on cosmic symbolic (or psychological) significance. Windows and glass are especially important to this story, protecting various characters from outside forces, allowing them to maintain their distance and their illusions. Telephones are also rich in meaning, providing vectors and blind spots where each character’s defenses can be penetrated. Cars? Another symbol with apparently endless significance: Takashi’s car is one of his domains of safety and control, and Noriaki seems to have an unusual power over cars, being a mechanic himself.
As an “art object,” Like Someone in Love is not merely an assemblage of these kinds of thematic adornments. It also has weight and substance to it, especially in its complex characters and their occasional poignant moments. One of the earliest scenes is an extended car ride to the suburbs, as Akiko watches the city lights slide by and listens to a series of phone messages from her grandmother. The power in this lengthy scene is tremendous, and I can’t hope to describe its emotional effect. It has the touch of a genuinely brilliant filmmaker.
A great deal of the film concerns the difference between the young and the elderly, which Takashi evokes when he talks about “experience.” The young people in the film—Akiko and Noriaki—are swallowed up by ambitions and pretenses and delusions, and their attitudes contrast sharply with that of Takashi, who faces the world with a wealth of patience and composure. These characters are rendered richly in gestures and pauses and hesitations, and in this regard, Kiarostami recalls the work of Ozu, who often addressed this theme, and did it with many of the same tools.
These characters are drawn into mysterious constellations of authenticity and deception and mistaken identity. In this regard, Someone in Love feels like Certified Copy, Kiarostami’s last film. Both films dealt with the fluidity of identity and the shifting of roles, and even as both films hinged on a broad self-imposed deception, both seemed to find a deeper truth in the lie. Regarding Like Someone in Love, this prompted Richard Brody of The New Yorker to suggest the following thesis: “Love is a lie, but it’s one that’s best not to ask questions about.”
Brody’s attempted thesis statement is one excellent way of reading the film, but it’s certainly not the only one. One of the best things about this curious, multifaceted cinematic work is that it’s about many things at once, even as it seems to be a simple, if oblique, story fragment about love and mistaken identity. It may not be among the weirdest films, but I would certainly count it among the best.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“It’s odd in a film when you can’t imagine what the next shot is going to be, where a character’s ‘arc’ is going to leave him or her, whether you’re watching a drama or a tragedy.”—David Edelstein, Vulture (contemporaneous)