In the oft-sung standard that lends Abbas Kiarostami’s latest film its title, it’s that first little word that gives the lyric its wry twist. Whether gazing at stars or hearing guitars, the singer (Kiarostami opts for Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition) can’t quite admit her own feelings just as the three main characters in Like Someone in Love suffer from a similar disconnect.
The Tokyo-set Like Someone in Love (Kiarostami’s second narrative film shot outside of his native Iran) shares with its predecessor Certified Copy a sense of role-playing within relationships between people who at least seem to be strangers. The reality here isn’t nearly as elusive or slippery as in his earlier film; while the characters’ backstories remain ambiguous, they at least remain consistent. Instead, Kiarostami keeps the viewer off balance through the silences and absences within his frame.
The director’s evasive intentions are clear from the opening shot as a cell-phone conversation takes place: Although the camera lingers on customers in a bar, none of them is the speaker. Eventually, the voice is revealed to belong to Akiko (Rin Takanashi), a young prostitute having problems with her possessive fiancé (Ryo Kase). She’s sent to the home of an elderly professor (Tadashi Okuno), who seems more interested in company than in sex. The next day, he chauffeurs her around, allowing for some of the most languorous and lyrical of Kiarostami’s trademark sequences set in cars. The professor is a writer and translator, and as Akiko arrives at an apartment, he’s on the phone with a persistent client who asks for a translation without knowing exactly what he wants to say — just that he trusts in the old man’s gift with words to express his meaning. Each of Kiarostami’s characters end up playing parts in the others’ eyes, defined not by who they claim to be, but by who the others assume them to be — a subtle, but ultimately fateful distinction.
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