As the films of director Abbas Kiarostami have become more formally elegant, it’s tempting to be satisfied with their visual beauty alone. Yet Certified Copy and now Like Someone in Love – both set and filmed outside of Kiarostami’s native Iran – are, in their own sensual way, as intellectually provocative as a scruffier docudrama such as Close-Up, from 1990. The questions of identity and duality are still here, but wow are they better lit.
Like Someone in Love largely takes place in Tokyo, where a high-end prostitute named Akiko (Rin Takanashi) begins her night in a restaurant debating whether she should accept a call from a client or meet up with her visiting grandmother. Pressured by her manager – there’s a crafty shot of him standing outside the restaurant window, so that the reflection of his white shirt appears to be haunting her – Akiko gets into a cab for the drive to the client’s home.
And so, as often happens with Kiarostami, we find ourselves in a moving vehicle. Perhaps the director prefers this scenario because it allows for multiple screens – the windshield, the other windows and the passing scenery mirrored in each one. Kiarostami needs more than one screen because he’s often projecting multiple stories simultaneously. In Certified Copy, the central couple seemed to switch from being new acquaintances to married rivals midway through. Here, Akiko is both a confident prostitute and a lost granddaughter. When she meets her much older client, Takashi (Tadashi Okuno), he’s not only a yearning man (she smells the perfume of other women on his pillow), but also a thoughtful host and dedicated scholar. Kiarostami’s movies make room for the multiple personalities we often are.
If there is a visual equivalent to that title song – the Billie Holiday version is favored here – Kiarostami seems to have found it.
There is a bit of Certified Copying going on in the film as well. Confronted by Akiko’s abusive boyfriend (Ryo Kase), Takashi doesn’t correct him when he assumes that Takashi is Akiko’s grandfather. Later, when Takashi’s nosy neighbor assumes Akiko is his granddaughter, she plays along. There’s a poignancy to both scenes that’s underscored by the jazz standard of the title. Brought together under shallow, commercial circumstances, the young woman and older man enact the deeper sort of connection for which they both long.
If there is a visual equivalent to that title song – the Billie Holiday version is favored here – Kiarostami seems to have found it. The color and light of Tokyo at night are gorgeously blurred, particularly when they play across one of those windshields. Takashi’s apartment has a homey glow, especially on the night that he and Akiko first meet. There’s an astonishing shot of Takashi sitting in a chair in the bedroom, while Akiko tries to tempt him to the bed, which lies behind the camera, off screen. To the right of Takashi we can see her indistinct figure in the dim blackness of a blank television. The image is both enticing and unsettling; she could be a specter from a fantasy or a bad dream. Perhaps on this night she’s both.
Takanashi, who has mostly worked in Japanese television, is arresting throughout the picture, transitioning from beleaguered girlfriend to alluring escort to aspiring granddaughter with ease. There’s a lovely long take of her in that cab, in which she listens to a series of voicemail messages from her grandmother, each one sadder than the last. Without a word or another actor to play off of, Takanashi communicates the roiling emotions that lie beyond her mostly impassive face.
If Like Someone in Love left me wanting at all, it was at the very end, which comes abruptly and with a defiant disdain for resolution of any kind. Rather than the intriguing ambiguity with which Certified Copy closed, the sudden action here verges on the arbitrary. Is this just a quirk? A nod to the recent art-cinema trend of non-ending endings? Perhaps it’s another piece of the Kiarostami puzzle, one I’m just not able to fit.