Continuing the international road show he began with Certified Copy, Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami transplants his customary techniques to the soil of Japanese culture with unquestionable success. Kiarostami's latest plays polyphonies on the twin themes of simulation and dissimulation. Named after an Ella Fitzgerald torch song heard on the soundtrack, an equally appropriate alternative title would have been It's Only Make Believe. Characters in Like Someone In Love step into various roles as whim and necessity dictate. What at first seems ingenuous, and even playful, grows progressively darker and more ominous, until the shattering finale reveals exactly what the stakes have been in this particular game. Like Someone In Love may bear some of the superficial markings of a comedy, even a romantic comedy Kiarostami-style, but make no mistake, by its final moments the film becomes a startling dissection of masculine jealousy and the capacity for violence.
Kiarostami throws viewers into the water straight away with a disorienting opening shot: We see the interior of a bar from a table-level view, while eavesdropping on a disembodied voice's one-sided conversation. Kiarostami's formalist compositions play with off- and on-screen space, as well as the density of ambient sounds. (At first, you might even take it for a POV shot, but the eyelines are all wrong.) It only slowly becomes evident that the speaker, a young student named Akiko (Rin Takanashi), is lying to her boyfriend, Noriaki (Ryo Kase), about where she is and what she's doing. Because Noriaki seems to be the jealous type, Akiko uses her friend as a beard while she prepares to go out on a "date" with a VIP as a call girl.
Akiko's date proves to be elderly sociology professor, Takashi (Tadashi Okuno), a forlorn, rather pathetic figure shuffling around his book-lined apartment in a seeming daze. Remarking her own resemblance to Takashi's dead wife, Akiko suggests she could mistaken for his granddaughter, initiating a series of role-playing scenarios in which the two will be taken for relatives, as well as triggering Takashi's long-dormant paternal feelings. (The flipside of this benevolent urge is revealed when Noriaki admits he wants to marry Akiko so that he can "protect" her, when what he actually wants is to control her every waking moment.) The next day, after dropping Akiko off at the campus where he used to teach, Takashi encounters Noriaki, slipping by sin of omission into the role of Akiko's grandfather, and questioning Noriaki about their relationship.
Even more than Certified Copy, where the relationship between Juliette Binoche and William Shimell stood as its central mystery, Like Someone In Love delves into the tortured, conflicted headspace of its characters without ever resorting to psychologizing shortcuts. Like Someone In Love is a film of impeccable craftsmanship, where every cut and every line of dialogue deepens and complicates your understanding. Kiarostami, as is his wont, slyly parcels out necessary information bit by bit, relying more on precision framing and editing, rigorously delineating the spatial vectors that connect or confine characters, than conventional dialogue-based exposition. Through these simplest and most economical of means, Kiarostami lays bear these three individuals, their hopes and fears, their best intentions as well as their worst instincts.
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