Of all the extant versions of the popular Jimmy Van Heusen/Johnny Burke American songbook standard “Like Someone In Love,” filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami goes with the Ella Fitzgerald version from 1957, playing the song twice throughout his new film of the same name. As ever, the divine Ella brings a thrillingly immaculate richness of voice to the song, enhanced by Frank De Vol’s lush full-orchestra arrangement surrounding her. In short, it oozes passionate yearning, which, by stark contrast, isn’t the quality one would take away from Kiarostami’s film. If anything, the emphasis in Like Someone In Love is on the “like” rather than on the “love.”
Whereas his last film, Certified Copy, managed an airy quality that elevated his intellectual concerns with authenticity or the lack of it in art and life into something genuinely soulful and sensual, this Japan-set, Japanese-language follow-up reworks those concerns into something just as visually scintillating but ultimately more downbeat. Instead of a quarrelling couple-that-may-or-may-not-actually-be-a-couple, there’s a young college student, Akiko (Rin Takanashi), who, through her side gig as a high-class escort, meets an elderly writer/translator/former college professor, Takashi (Tadashi Okuno). And the scenic Italian countryside of Certified Copy has given way to Tokyo’s chilly, impersonal metropolis.
Compared to Certified Copy, with its heady confounding of any easy grasp on who its main characters actually are, Like Someone In Love plays like a relatively straightforward character drama. But that isn’t to say that Kiarostami’s latest is any less concerned about slippery identities than its predecesso. Most importantly, both Akiko and Takashi find themselves forced to wear figurative masks in the course of the film. Akiko is required to feign interest and affection toward Takashi, her client; later on, Takashi ends up having to pretend to be Akiko’s grandfather when her fiancé, Noriaki (Ryô Kase), mistakes him as such (significantly, Takashi doesn’t disabuse him of that notion). Of course, when other people—Akiko’s fiancé, for instance, or a former student of Takashi’s from way back—intrude on this spontaneous charade, these two people are forced to revert back to their regular identities, at least for the time being. In other words, one way to look at Like Someone In Love is as a romantic comedy played in an extremely deliberate deadpan manner.
And yet, there’s a poignant core of melancholy underlying these mistaken-identity complications. One gets the sense, for example, that, beyond his writing and translating, Takashi lives a solitary existence in his art-filled apartment, making this encounter with Akiko a distraction from his loneliness. It’s no wonder, then, that he would welcome an opportunity to inhabit a parental role when it’s thrown into his lap. As for Akiko, the film opens with two remarkable sequences that establish the sometimes punishing physical and emotional world she inhabits as an escort. (The film’s second scene, set in the backseat of a cab in which she hears a slew of voice messages from her grandmother, whom she had to forsake in order to visit Takashi, constitutes a devastating mini-drama in and of itself.) But then, as the film progresses, her own distinct identity begins to gradually recede into the background as various people around her frequently tell her she reminds them of someone they know.
Kiarostami’s images, lensed by Katsumi Yanagijima, evoke another facet of his broader theme: a sense of theatrical artifice rippling through the real world. Frames within the larger widescreen frame are a hallmark of his visual style in Like Someone In Love, marked off by doorways and windows. Within these frames, characters are free to either continue play-acting or to reveal personal truths. The director is even able to suggest this just within the 1.85:1 widescreen frame itself: The opening scene is a brilliantly dizzying example of using the entirety of his film frame—foreground and background, on- and off-screen space—to suggest both character and environment, packing in so much drama and detail that one is forced to roam around the frame to keep track of it all. And speaking of backgrounds, Kiarostami’s choice of backgrounds in his mise-en-scène to suggest character—in a car conversation between Takashi and Noriaki, Takashi is tellingly framed with Tokyo city streets in the background, as opposed to the university campus that looms behind Noriaki, suggesting a contrast between worldly wisdom and naïveté—adds an extra self-conscious theatrical element to the film’s many dialogue scenes.
None of this, thankfully, is merely playfulness for its own sake. It’s part and parcel of a film concerned with, as per its title, exploring the possibilities of love in a world predicated on putting on appearances and suppressing innermost desires. In an environment such as the one Kiarostami dissects in Like Someone In Love, perhaps only a rock thrown through a window is the only way to truly break through surfaces that conceal as much as they reveal.
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