Combustible Celluloid
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With: Rin Takanashi, Tadashi Okuno, Ryo Kase
Written by: Abbas Kiarostami
Directed by: Abbas Kiarostami
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Japanese, with English subtitles
Running Time: 109
Date: 05/21/2012

Like Someone in Love (2012)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Gazing at Stars

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Iranian-born director Abbas Kiarostami has been among the world's greatest living filmmakers for some time now, though he's far from a household name. And whatever reputation he did earn up until now will probably be knocked back a few squares with the U.S. release of his new Like Someone in Love.

Kiarostami has entered a refreshing new phase of his career. At the beginning, he told poetic, realistic tales of his home country (Where Is the Friend's Home?, Taste of Cherry, The Wind Will Carry Us). He then evolved into making highly experimental videos (Ten, Five, Shirin). Then, he recently delivered his first international production, the masterpiece Certified Copy, filmed in Italy, and with English and French stars. For his newest film, he has gone to Japan.

The storytelling style in Like Someone in Love resembles that which Kiarostami has used for decades; it's highly observant, with long, meditative takes, and even long passages with no dialogue. Yet it also contains perhaps his most baffling ending, at least since Taste of Cherry, and it will no doubt send Americans into a tizzy. Anyone trained to see movies as good for "stories" only, with no exceptions, and anyone who believes that these stories should always consist of a beginning, middle, and an end, is hereby warned away.

Anyone else, if you're still with me, you're in for what will most certainly be one of the year's best movies.

It's arguably the first time Kiarostami has dealt with sensuality in his films, though the film couldn't be chaster. A young prostitute -- who is never referred to by that descriptor -- named Akiko (Rin Takanashi) keeps getting calls from a jealous boyfriend (Ryo Kase, Letters from Iwo Jima, Outrage), checking up on her and asking for proof of her whereabouts. She also receives voicemails from a persistent grandmother, in Tokyo for only one day and hoping to meet Akiko for a meal. Instead of doing this, she has been assigned to visit a retired professor, Takashi (Tadashi Okuno).

It's not clear what Takashi has in mind for Akiko. He claims to have prepared a shrimp dish from her hometown, which she says she doesn't like. He also acts nervous when he receives a business call, as if ashamed of letting anyone know what he's up to. Akiko is exhausted, quickly assesses the situation as harmless, and falls asleep in Takashi's bed. The next day, Takashi seems happy and willing to drive Akiko anywhere she wants to go, and she takes advantage of this.

While waiting for her to go to a class, Takashi meets the boyfriend, who mistakes Takashi for Akiko's grandfather, and Takashi allows him to believe it. This deception leads Kiarostami to his abrupt conclusion, though we have to ask: what actually is the story's ending? What happens if there's nothing more to show? If we assume that our expectations may not have anything to do with what the movie is willing to show, then it begins to make sense.

What the movie actually does show is a complex relationship between three people. The title gives a clue: "like" someone in love, but not someone in love. Takashi plays Ella Fitzgerald's rendition of this song at a key moment to underline it. Akiko discovers a portrait in Takashi's apartment that may or may not look like her. It could be that Takashi is simply hoping to imagine that he could love someone, though realistically more in a grandfatherly way than as a lover.

The boyfriend also views his love for Akiko in a very different way than she sees it. He imagines that if they marry, he'll have more control over her. Two other characters enter into the story as well: the unseen grandmother, who never connects with Akiko and must return home without seeing her, and Takashi's landlady, who confesses to Akiko (while speaking through a small window) that she has always loved Takashi. (She, too, could be Akiko's grandparent.)

It's interesting that Kiarostami skips parental love in this equation, focusing either on lovers of the same age, or two generations ahead. Perhaps this is because the older generation has time and experience to reflect, while the younger generation is more immediate and passionate, while the parents are stuck in-between.

Regardless, the sudden ending pretty much severs all ties between any of these loving people, suddenly changing all their statuses as humans to pure animal. The story ends without true love, but it's easy to imagine that life goes on, just as it does in many other Kiarostami movies. Of all Kiarostami's films, Like Someone in Love reminded me most of Taste of Cherry. In that one, a man drives around the hills outside of Tehran, looking for someone to assist him in his suicide. The film ends with the man lying down in a grave he has dug for himself, but whether he's successful or not is never answered. Instead, we get a coda of the film set itself, with Kiarostami, the actors, and the crew, walking around, alive and well. Life goes on.

I wonder if Kiaostami belives in love, then? I suspect he does, and he's just demonstrating several other kinds of love, kinds that the movies don't usually bother to depict. Perhaps he's also showing that, even falling in love a little bit, for a short while, can be worthwhile.

The Criterion Collection has bestowed upon this underseen film a beautiful DVD and Blu-ray release. The image, with its big city lights, car interiors, and modest apartments is beautiful, and the audio is sharp and clear. The extras include a trailer, a very strong 45-minute documentary on the making of the film, and a liner notes essay by Nico Baumbach. I suppose more extras would have been nice, but this is Criterion's third Kiarostami release on Blu-ray (after Close-Up and Certified Copy), and it has left me hoping that the company will, in the future, resurrect some of Kiarostami's hard-to-find masterpieces (specifically the "earthquake" trilogy). One can hope.

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