At age 73, Iranian-born director Abbas Kiarostami is among the freshest and most energetic filmmakers working today. A forerunner of the Iranian New Wave, his ideas always intrigue without wandering aimlessly; his screenwriting is sparse, yet no matter the language or setting, always rings true; his execution is stylistic, but mostly, just beautiful. Kiarostami eschews containment in any form, working on shorts, documentaries, and features that consider a range of topics, from students' homework (in the 1989 documentary Homework) to the sociopolitical landscape of his native Iran. (Photo: Rin Takanashi in Abbas Kiarostami's Like Someone in Love.)
Abbas Kiarostami's new film, Like Someone in Love, which opens in New York City and Los Angeles on Feb. 15, is a proper addition to his canon: it's lovely, intriguing, and stylish. Like Someone in Love poses questions it does not always answer, and leaves audiences with the sense of having watched a story deliberately unfinished, yet deeply satisfying – at least for those who don't require resolutions.
Like Someone in Love picks up on the subject of Kiarostami's 2010 film Certified Copy, itself a work of thoughtful genius. That movie stars Juliette Binoche and William Shimell as a couple who meet in Tuscany and slip effortlessly into a relationship that is not real – yet it is very real. In both Like Someone in Love and Certified Copy we experience copies, or substitutes, for other relationships. In both films the characters fall into their characters and their characters' characters – and we fall along with them. In both films the relationships resonate with an emotional depth that is true to both character and audience, even as they, and we, know they are only copies.
Like Someone in Love plot: Complex relationships
The Tokyo-set Like Someone in Love extends the notions proffered in Certified Copy, giving them another context and considering another possible outcome. Akiko (Rin Takanashi) is a beautiful young woman; she's a prostitute, student, girlfriend and granddaughter. Takashi (Tadashi Okuno) is an elderly gentleman; he's a man of some note, genuinely unassuming, slightly fragile, a lonely widower. Why Akiko, the young beautiful prostitute, comes to be in the company of Takashi, the lonely, elderly widower, is obvious and unremarkable, yet the process of getting us there is meticulously constructed of what might be mundane details in a lesser filmmaker's hands.
Kiarostami, in fact, makes the details captivating. Akiko and Takashi's relationship, however obvious, is never what it seems. It isn't even what it seems when it's being what it is: that of a prostitute and her client. This is the point, of course, that those delineations are only in our minds, but it's not the only point. Kiarostami is also thinking about consequences.
Akiko has a jealous, hot-headed boyfriend who thinks she's only a student, with an elderly grandparent come to visit. He intends to marry her whether she wants to or not. During an uncomfortable conversation between Takashi and Akiko's volatile boyfriend, Takashi says to the young man, “I'm just as much her grandfather as I am yours,” which is true, yet a lie, and ultimately leads to all sorts of stunning, if not expected, consequences.
It's possible to look at Like Someone in Love with a scolding eye. We can scold Akiko for being a prostitute, for having a volatile boyfriend to whom she lies incessantly, for leaning on an old man for shelter when things go inevitably awry. We can scold Takashi for lying to Akiko's boyfriend, for thinking he could protect her, for hiring a prostitute in the first place. Kiarostami does not scold, he sets his characters in motion and considers the possibilities.
Like Someone in Love and Certified Copy: Abbas Kiarostami trilogy in the making?
Abbas Kiarostami's filmography is long and ranges from revelatory documentaries (Close-Up and Five Dedicated to Ozu), to penetrating dramas (Taste of Cherry, The Wind Will Carry Us), and is more than occasionally touched by brilliance, if not outright genius. The Report (1977), for instance, is both. The film stars a very young Shohreh Aghdashloo (House of Sand and Fog, The Stoning of Soraya M.), and so offended the incoming regime that the camera negative was destroyed during the Iranian Revolution. Only tape masters shipped for foreign distribution still exist.
And there's what's been called Kiarostami's Koker trilogy, which includes Where Is the Friend's Home? (1987), And Life Goes On / Life and Nothing More... (1992) and Through the Olive Trees (1994) – though Kiarostami himself prefers to consider Taste of Cherry (1997) the third in that trilogy.
In any case, along with Certified Copy, Like Someone in Love feels like a trilogy in the making. No doubt a director of Kiarostami's eternal youth and thoughtfulness has a good deal more to say on the subject of this film, and many others.
Like Someone in Love (2012). Director and Screenplay: Abbas Kiarostami. Cast: Rin Takanashi, Tadashi Okuno.
Rin Takanashi in Abbas Kiarostami's Like Someone in Love photo: IFC Films / Sundance Selects.