Like Someone In Love
I don’t blame anyone for being put off by the term "art-house cinema." It’s almost become a dirty word. Because we all know the connotations: these movies that are subtitled, slow-paced, almost laughably dry, and normally concern unconsummated flirtations. So, even as a dedicated fan, I have to put it out there: Abbas Kiarostami’s movies don’t just ’conform’ to these stereotypes; they helped to define them. And Like Someone in Love, his second international film (lensed in Japan,) and his latest triumph, is no different. His films don’t grab or strike you with narrative or atmosphere. They ask you to become enraptured in them.
Take the first half-hour of this film (it’s the best you’re going to get for a plot description, anyway.) What happens: we meet a young girl, Akiko, in a restaurant. She’s arguing on the phone with her possessive boyfriend, and arguing in-person with what appears to be her pimp (she’s an escort.) Eventually, the latter talks her into taking a job, and she takes a cab there; checking her messages and driving by a family hallmark on the way. That’s it. It’s about how you interpret the moments, not what they lead to.
Kiarostami’s is the cinema of ideas and subdued feelings, not of narrative propulsion and overt excitement: he teases your brain, forcing your hand as a participant rather than letting you sink back and accept everything as mere entertainment. Take that first scene: we overhear Akiko talking, but she’s not in the frame. A number of other conversations, however, are (we later learn we’re seeing from her point-of-view.) Kiarostami plays with us, and with the form; guiding our eyes around a number of ’false leads’ - and thus orienting us with the space he’s spending the first reel of the film in - before finally landing on Akiko minutes later.
Much like "Certified Copy," "Someone in Love" is all about shifting expectations - those of the characters, ours, and those of the narrative cinema. Akiko ends up spending the day with older, academic client Takashi - that is, in-between run-ins with the aforementioned karate-trained boy-toy, Noriaki. Following that first half-hour, every few minutes of dialogue switches up the dynamics: first Noriaki is mad at Akiko (whose profession he is ignorant of), for having a companion, then he mistakes Takashi for her grandfather and begins to respectfully ask for advice, then their conversation turns dour and begins to show seeds of generational divide.
As the deceptions and role-playing pile up, each character creates additional personas for themselves rather than succumb to silly concepts like honesty or openness - in fact, I’d compare Kiarostami closely with Tarantino; both are obsessed with the idea of people ’acting as characters’ in their everyday life. Many see his films as challenges to be solved; trying to find, for example, the ’real answer’ as to whether the couple in "Certified Copy" have just met or are actually married (at different times, said film suggests both possibilities.) But read his films that way, and you couldn’t possibly miss the point any more. Because he’s all about breaking expectations, not telling stories - he couldn’t be less interested in making films that have a definitive ’answer’.
A classically Kiarostamian scene lays out his themes: Takashi’s neighbor, an older woman, is complaining about the view from her window. We stay on her point-of-view for a number of scenes, but near the climax, he finally cuts to a shot of her: the window is laughably narrow. He’s primary interest lays in the way our settings and our company influence our behavior, the way social formalism and concepts of propriety can leave our viewpoints as narrow as that window. (Hardly a shocking thematic interest, coming from a man who had been limited by the Orwellian influence that ruled the Iranian cinema for a number of decades.)
Most movies offer their audiences a point-of-view that’s as narrow as that window, too. But not Kiarostami. He’s often called his pictures "unfinished," and none befit that term more literally than this one. These films aren’t actually jigsaw puzzles. They’re blank canvasses.