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Like Someone in Love

Rin Takanashi in "Like Someone in Love."

Like watching a movie - not

Like Someone in Love

Filmmakers are fond of saying that the most interesting thing about their work is what audiences bring to it and make of it.

Here’s the esteemed Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami expounding on that theme in an interview with the Village Voice: “I make one film as a filmmaker, but the audience, based on that film, makes 100 movies in their minds…This is what I strive for. Sometimes, when my audiences tell me about the mental movies they have made based on my movie, I am surprised, and I become the audience for their movies as they are describing them to me.”

From that, it follows that the viewer’s state of mind must also be of some concern to the filmmaker.

In that spirit, I can only hope that, in the unlikely event that Kiarostami ever reads these comments, he will keep in mind that they were written based on a screening of the film I attended six months ago; that the notes I took at that point are in a notebook I have not seen since I packed it in a box whilst moving three months ago; that I would have watched the film again but the distributor never sent a screener; that I was required to write a last-minute review anyway because a I booked space for it in this issue; and that I wrote it on an uncomfortable and unwieldy combination of two jury-rigged computers after my cat knocked a glass of juice over on my keyboard.

(That I am bothering you, dear reader, with all this has as much to do with laying a conceptual basis for my comments as it does with the fact that I have to fill up an entire page here.)

I’ve been following Kiarostami since the early 1990s, when Iranian movies started commanding international attention. He has always stood apart from his countrymen for his interest in cinema over storytelling. As tends to happen with filmmakers like this (think Jean-Luc Godard), he has over time become interested in deconstructing the mechanics of making movies. He is very interested in filming people sitting in cars. Not speeding cars, exploding cars, cars rolling over or cars with laser beams mounted in their grills: just cars. He went from films composed with a minimum number of shots to films made with a single stationary camera. His last Iranian film, Shirin, is built entirely of shots of the faces of 114 women as they watch a film. We never see the film, only the faces of the viewers.

Now in exile and working in France (which brings to mind comparisons with Michael Haneke, another cerebral filmmaker who often seems more interested in punishing the audience than in catering to it), Kiarostami found a balance with the market place in his last film, Certified Copy, in which a French woman (Juliette Binoche) and an English man meet and develop a relationship while on vacation in Tuscany. At least so it seems: Perhaps they are actually husband and wife playing a private game? The ambiguity is strong enough to make the film playful and engrossing.

His new film Like Someone In Love is also built around ambiguity and uncertainty, but the effect is quite the opposite. From the protracted opening scene, in which we see women sitting in a bar in Tokyo and listen to a conversation but are unable to reconcile the two sources of information, it is a film built on frustration.

To give you a head start, the film centers on Akiko (Rin Takanashi), a student who makes ends meet by working as a high-end escort. (That may or may not actually mean prostitute; this is not a film that likes to answer questions.) Events, perhaps not the best word to use in a film like this, bring her in contact with Takashi (Tadashi Okuno), a retired professor who does translation work and seldom sees other people. Later, along comes Noriaki (Ryo Kase), Akiko’s jealous fiancée. He mistakes Takashi for her grandfather. She doesn’t correct him, because that would clear things up.

Reviewers more perspicacious than I find this film intriguing. They rejoice in its allusions to other filmmakers, including Yasujiro Ozu and Krzysztof Kieslowski (and how nice to see a filmmaker who can refer to another director besides Hitchcock). They find Kiarostami’s disorienting compositions elegant and the whole thing fascinating for the amount of work they had to do to figure out what may or may not be going on.

But by the time the film ended with an actual event, one that Kiarostami allows onscreen only long enough so that you can feel the frustration of his cutting away from it to go to the credits, I felt like I had just spent nearly two hours as the butt of his joke.

Watch the trailer for Like Someone in Love

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