Rin Takanashi in Abbas Kiarostami’s Like Someone in Love
The title of the latest film from arthouse favorite Abbas Kiarostami comes from the Jimmy van Heusen and Johnny Burke jazz standard which the great Ella Fitzgerald is heard singing twice during the film’s run time. But if the oft-recorded number promises a dreamy-eyed, romantic idealization of love, Kiarostami’s cinematic vision suggests the opposite. A powerful loneliness which lurks between the ideal and the reality gnaws at the story from all sides.
Though it’s more concrete, less mysterious and less open to interpretation than Kiarostami’s previous film Certified Copy, it is nevertheless similar in the way it quietly drops its audience into an unfolding situation with few obvious signposts laying out exactly who the characters are or how they interrelate. No one in fact turns out quite how you might at first expect them to. However, whereas Certified Copy relies on a sudden shift in what we know or think we know about the two lead characters, the dynamism of Like Someone in Love comes from an unlikely sort-of love triangle.
Japanese actress Rin Takanashi plays Akiko, a pretty young woman we first meet obliquely at a club as we hear arguing off screen over the phone with a jealous-seeming boyfriend. She insists she’s just out with a female friend and she’s able to temporarily assuage the boy. It turns out though that she’s actually working as a prostitute waiting for an assignment from her pimp. She seems distracted and presents a series of excuses for not working on this night, but her pimp cajoles her, insisting it’s a special client that he needs her for.
Living an hour’s cab ride outside of Tokyo, that client is Takashi played by Tadashi Okuno (A Taxing Woman), a somewhat distracted, 60-something former academic. Though it’s never explicitly stated, one assumes he’s hired the young girl for, but more than anything he seems enlivened by the companionship. Curiously, Akiko too seems to light up while making small talk with Takashi, asking him about his books and the pictures on his wall and opening up to him with stories from her childhood. Is she really interested or is she just playing a part? Perhaps the clearly defined parameters of a financial transaction are easier for them both than real emotional ones, especially in a Japanese culture that to Western eyes seems to favor modesty, indirectness and a certain emotional remove.
The next day, Takashi agrees to drive Akiko around as she heads to her classes at university. There she runs into Noriaki (Ryo Kase), the young man on the phone who turns out to be her fiancé but who apparently knows nothing about her second life or at least he only suspects. Not knowing Takashi is Akiko’s client, Noriaki mistakes him for her grandfather.
It’s a simple, unassuming setup, but Kiarostami is only using the plot, such as it is, to provide a framework for him to sketch his portraits of these lonely characters, the details of which he fills in indirectly with scraps of conversation and hints about the past. Each character’s whole world is suggested and each leaves a deep impression, but it’s Akiko who has the biggest impact, as inscrutable as she is. She seems an innocent at first until we realize what she’s doing for money. And yet, she’s not quite a lost soul. She just doesn’t know what she wants from life or from love though she seems to be on the precipice of a possible downward spiral.
In a great sequence as she’s riding out to her “date,” she dodges a number of increasingly sad sounding voicemails from her grandmother who has arrived in town for the day and is worried about her and very eager to have lunch with her. Akiko listens to each message, but never returns the calls until finally she realizes the cab is passing close to the train station where her grandmother said she’d be waiting. Instead of stopping, she asks the driver to circle twice so she can get a look at her grandmother from afar. She seems desperate for contact, but the reasons she avoids it are left to audience interpretation.
Almost always, Kiarostami implies or suggests more about his characters than he comes right out and asserts. There’s a feeling of depth and richness, but characters’ actions can be interpreted in infinite ways and those interpretations probably say more about the audience than the film itself.
While it doesn’t have the immediate zing that Certified Copy rewarded its audience with, Like Someone in Love quietly simmers with emotion. What it lacks in narrative fireworks, it more than compensates with a deep, melancholy feeling,
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