Tag Archives: Abbas Kiarostami




FEATURING: Tadashi Okuno, Rin Takanashi,

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.

Still from Like Someone in Love (2012)

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 , 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.


“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)


Copie Conforme

DIRECTED BY: Abbas Kiarostami

FEATURING: , William Shimell

PLOT: A French antiques dealer and an English author spend a day together in rural Tuscany, discussing (and often fighting about) art, philosophy, and family. As the hours pass it becomes apparent that these supposed strangers may share a much deeper relationship.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While there is definitely a turning point that makes for a very weird, confusing moment, most of this film is well-acted arthouse drama. The questionable nature of the lead characters’ relationship is the only thing about it that’s strange, and in the end it proves to be a comment on the sad nature of a failed marriage.

COMMENTS: Bickering about art, literature, and everyday life while they move around a scenic Tuscan village, the central characters of Certified Copy initially act much like you’d expect a couple in a European arthouse movie to act. They meander through beautiful scenery laced with antique sculptures and architecture, surrounded by jolly tourists and locals who at times provide fodder for their good-natured arguments. They sip cappuccino at a cute cafe. They speak in English, French, and Italian. They visit a museum. At first James (played by opera singer William Shimell) primarily discusses his most recent book, called “Certified Copy,” and Elle (the incomparable Juliette Binoche) talks about her family, especially her problematic teenage son. After a conversation with a nosy but well-meaning cafe server, Elle suddenly becomes furious with James, and he gradually takes on the role of her absent husband.

Whether James really is her husband remains unclear, though it seems possible that these characters are play-acting at this relationship, creating a copy of the missing thing in keeping with their discussions of copies versus originals. James takes on a role and Elle goes along with it, eventually regressing to the giddy romantic girl she was when they married 14 years prior, attempting to understand where their relationship fell apart and perhaps rekindle their long-lost passions. Their conversation continues to wax and wane, moving through lighthearted observations and dark memories, always ambiguous enough to keep the viewer at a distance despite the intimate handheld camerawork.

This is very much an actor’s movie, with Binoche and Shimell shining equally in the lead roles. He is sharp and quiet, always speaking logically and with a cold, intelligent air. She is bright and volatile, shifting from laughter to tears in the blink of an eye as her expressive face betrays a web of complex emotional struggles. His stoic presentation, rarely shaken except for one telling scene at a restaurant, is a perfect foil for her changeable nature. They take turns being sympathetic or aggressive, and while they have so many points of contention it’s a wonder they ever (maybe) had a romantic connection, their chemistry is strong enough to make whatever love they may have shared believable.

It is the mystery surrounding the sudden, unexplained shift in James and Elle’s characters that marks Certified Copy as something special, and keeps its audience focusing closely on every word, every knowing look. Is their relationship just a copy of the real thing, a therapeutic performance piece for Elle? Do they still love one another or are they blinded by nostalgia? Is the medium of film itself only capable of showing copies of true events, shadows of true emotions? Kiarostami does not reveal what is real or unreal, and it is up to us to wade through the wandering dialogue and gorgeous cinematography to find our own truth.

CRITERION SPECIAL FEATURES: The Criterion release includes a new interview with Kiarostami discussing the film, the making-of documentary Let’s See “Copia conforme”, a booklet with an essay by film critic Godfrey Cheshire, and the director’s rare 1977 feature The Report in its entirety.


“Kiarostami is like a magician who shows you how he does it and still leaves you mesmerized. There’s an effrontery to his method… The film is not so much about reality and fantasy but about deepening levels of reality.” –Peter Rainer, Christian Science Monitor.