Can you make a Japanese Iranian film? Kiarostami tries his luck in Like Someone In Love, a forlorn existentialism piece – featuring at CPH PIX Film Festival – that sees the Iranian auteur dabble with one part comedy of manners, and another more familiar doze of melancholic social commentary.
Following 2010’s twisty, Tuscany-set drama Certified Copy, Kiarostami lands in Tokyo to tell the story of Akiko (played by Rin Takanashi) a beautiful, engaged sociology major, moonlighting as an escort to help pay her way. Despite having plans with her visiting grandmother, and an irate fiancé at home (Ryo Kase), her resolute pimp sends her off in a taxi to a ‘very special client’, retired sociology professor turned translator Mr. Takashi (Tadashi Okuno). His intentions for ordering a call-girl are ambiguous but, what could have been a frivolous (read: ‘repulsive’), one-night business transaction turns into a taboo-busting, ancestral friendship, built on circumstance and a surmounting bed of lies that they are destined to lie in.
Rarely denounced, the Cannes’ Palme d’Or award-winning filmmaker is prone to the perniciously titled ‘slow-cinema’. With his avid documentarian style, and Katsumi Yanagijima’s terse cinematography, Like Someone In Love‘s threadbare story meanders as schismatically as the obscure film title. Simply put, nothing here is predictable or inscribed to a formula. Instead of looking at the final, finished picture, Kiarostami drops us into a world so frugal and immediate that it’s more akin to watching a stage than a movie screen.
As common in many of his films, transitional narrative and existentialism tropes unfurl from behind the wheel. In one particularly affecting sequence, a teary eyed Akiko, surrounded by the city’s ambient glow and hum, circles the city’s central station from the (dis)comfort of a taxi cab, trying to catch a glimpse of the doting grandmother she will ultimately abandon.
The performances are some of the best I have seen in yonks! Most notably is elder statesman Okuno as the wise Owl, Mr Takashi, who brings great sincerity to what would otherwise be quite a callous drama. Ryo Kase is great too, playing Akiko’s emotionally drained, street-smart mechanic fiancé, so restively menacing that he doesn’t even have to be on-screen in the film’s exhilarated final chapter to keep us on-edge right up until the credits.
Even still, there is something slightly empty and bungling about Like Someone In Love. Whether it’s shoddy translation or awkward on-set dynamics, when the script attempts to critique subordinated female roles in modern Japan (and, reflexively, we can assume Kiarostami is talking about Iran too) the result is hamfisted. Excessively cryptic, Kiarostami is at his best when he’s at his quietest, letting his players use expressionism to portray his engrossing stories.
The glacial pace that Kiarostami moves in leaves him tightroping between the trite and indulgence. Fortunately, the acclaimed filmmaker proves once again that his unique, poetic interest in the human condition bears no formal language boundaries, with three central characters that, despite their reticence, are equally alien, familiar and constantly engrossing, both during and long after the film’s end.
If there was ever any risk of Kiarostami going into full-on travelling man mode, a la Woody Allen, his next film project sees him returning to the homeland. Like a boisterous gap-year backpacker, hopefully the esteemed director of the dour’s return home will see him return to the great heights he has reached before. Until then, Like Someone In Love proves he’s still got the knack for making films that will leave you turning in your bed at night; unable to sleep because of the dramatic heft he has left you with.
Like Someone in Love is screened as part of CPH PIX Film Festival’s ‘Maestros’ series. Find out more, and book tickets, at the festival website.