Photo courtesy of VIFF
DIR: Abbas Kiarostami | Like Someone in Love| France/Iran/Japan | 2012 | 109 mins | Japanese
Thursday, October 4 6:30pm | Vogue Theatre
Wednesday, October 10th 3:30pm | Vogue Theatre
Friday, October 12 11:00am | Vancity Theatre
Subtle and soulful, Abbas Kiarostami's latest film chronicles the budding relationship between an elderly professor and a prostitute in Japan.
As the screen lights up, you find yourself in a dimly lit Tokyo bar, staring over a table of near-empty wine glasses to where fashionable ladies and suited men mingle. Someone gestures past you. A female voice—crisp and imploring—tells an unheard lover that, no, she's not lying. Her voice is so loud, it could be coming from your exact vantage point.
It's the small mysteries that power Like Someone in Love, acclaimed director Abbas Kiarostami's second feature shot outside his native Iran. Who is speaking? Who is she trying to convince, and why?
The voice turns out to be Akiko (Rin Takanashi), a struggling university student who secretly moonlights as a prostitute. Exhausted from studying and fending off the suspicions of her possessive boyfriend (Ryo Kase), Akiko is nevertheless slipped into a cab by her pimp and shipped off to her next client, the mysterious Professor Watanabe (Tadashi Okuno).
The 24 hours that follow, however, hardly prove to be restful for Akiko, as the secrecy separating her dual identities erodes, and her two lives—and two lovers—suddenly collide.
As the professor and the boyfriend, Okuno and Kase cover a range of infatuation masterfully, from puppy love to passion, wearied acceptance to naïve idealism.
With a patchy goatee and malformed mustache, Kase twitches and jerks convincingly with youthful angst. Boiling under that gangly facade is a palpable desire for an all-or-nothing love that can only explode with disappointment.
But the film belongs to Okuno as Professor Watanabe, whose grandfatherly care for Akiko is tarnished by the ambiguity of his own intentions. Hunched over, shuffling from scene to scene, Okuno communicates as much with a twitch of his ample moustache or his drooping eyes as he does with words.
Under different direction, prostitution, a jealous lover, and an unsettling paternal crush could easily be whipped into a frothy melodrama. However, director Kiarostami restrains his salacious material with his typical art-house style, dignifying the elegance of ordinary reality.
Anyone hoping for a titillating time at the movies ought to look elsewhere—this is a slow-burning meditation on love and its masquerades.
The force of Kiarostami's films does not spring from plot or overt cinematic spectacle. It comes from dropping the viewer blindly into the characters' world. This is no Hollywood film. Backstory and context are not gifts Kiarostami offers his audience. As a result, a character's every word, every gesture, takes on an acute sense of immediacy.
In spite of the limitations placed on the audience, Like Someone in Love succeeds in being a much more approachable film than Kiarostami's previous effort, 2010's Cannes Film Festival hit Certified Copy. While Kiarostami reprises the same questions of identity, Like Someone in Love remains less of a riddle than its predecessor, exchanging mystery for portraiture as its focus.
Where Like Someone in Love should have taken a cue from Certified Copy is in its female lead. Actress Juliette Binoche snagged Cannes's Best Actress Award in 2010 for her fiery, shape-shifting performance, and Rin Takanashi as Akiko starts this new film with the same kind of dynamism. Too soon, however, is Akiko transformed into a sleepy doll, a passive impetus to the men's discussions and power-plays.
But maybe that's the point. It's the pressure of the fantasies projected onto Akiko that fuel the film's quiet tension.
The realization—or shattering—of the fantasies may be anticlimactic to many, but the joy in Like Someone in Love is not found in the film's conclusion. Instead, it is found in the poetic unfurling of the characters' hope and self-deceit as they go through the motions of love.
Allison Griner is a graduate student of journalism at the University of British Columbia and has previously reviewed films for INsite Magazine and The Independent Florida Alligator, in Gainesville, Florida. Find her on Twitter at @alligriner.