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CANNES — After deconstructing a would-be romance in the Tuscany-set Certified Copy, Iranian auteur Abbas Kiarostami takes another trip abroad to explore the depths of unrequited desire in the Japanese drama, Like Someone in Love. However, this being a Kiarostami movie, the “Like” part of the title (taken from the widely covered jazz standard) is to be taken quite literally here, and this enchanting affair (of sorts) between a retired professor and a gorgeous young call girl is never exactly what it seems. Upscale art houses and admirers of the Palme d’Or laureate will be the major clients of this tenderhearted and melancholic work, provided its intentions are not lost in translation.
A lengthy opening in a crowded Tokyo bar sets the pace for much of what comes next: We see people chatting and drinking as a jazzy soundtrack plays in the background, but what we hear is the voice of a woman talking on the phone to her boyfriend, pretending to be somewhere she isn’t. Only when the camera cuts to the reverse shot do we see that the voice belongs to the timidly beautiful Akiko (Rin Takanashi), and only when the scene runs its course do we realize that she’s a student doubling as an escort girl, who’s about to be sent by her pimp (Denden) on a very special rendezvous.
This initial play between what’s seen, what’s heard and what’s really happening becomes the modus operandi for the relationship at the heart of Like Someone in Love, and the film constantly toys with the expectations of both its characters and the audience, transforming a classic three-way tale of mistaken identities into something much more mysterious and troubling.
What that exactly is becomes clear once Akiko arrives at the home of the elderly sociologist, Takashi (Tadashi Okuno), who seems to be all geared up for a hot date, though that’s not really what happens: After the two engage in a long and casual conversation about a painting hanging on Takashi’s wall (which prompts a very Vertigo-like moment of mirroring hairstyles), Akiko eventually heads into the bedroom and undresses, but an unexpected phone call delays things, and she winds up passing out on the old man’s bed.
The next day, Takashi drives Akiko to university and crosses paths with her macho boyfriend, Noriaki (Ryo Kase, Restless), who’s a bundle of nerves and jealousy. When the latter mistakes the professor for his girl’s grandfather, Takashi decides to go along with it, and very much like in Certified Copy (or the director’s 1990 masterpiece, Close-Up), the narrative becomes an extended quid pro quo, where the characters decide to take on different personas out of either desire or happenstance, or both. Thus, Takashi turns into the protector that Akiko sorely lacks as a young woman alone in the big city, while she becomes the granddaughter that the reclusive academic seems to be estranged from.
Where all the role-playing ultimately leads is surprising to say the least, and viewers familiar with Kiarostami’s typically serene dramas will have another thing coming to them. Whether such a denouement ultimately convinces is another matter, and while it certainly represents an intriguing change of pace for the filmmaker, it takes things so far as to make one wonder whether the means entirely justify the ends here.
Technically speaking, Like Someone in Love is exquisitely made — from the shadowy, nuanced cinematography of Takeshi Kitano regular Katsumi Yanagijima to the rich sound design of Reza Narimazadeh (A Separation). While there are several aesthetically imposing scenes, perhaps the most memorable is a trancelike sequence of Akiko crossing Tokyo in a taxicab at night — an impressive dance of movement, light and layered voices that certainly gives Sofia Coppola a run for her money.
Editing by the director’s son, Bahman Kiarostami, allows the performances to play out in uninterrupted takes, and the three principals — especially Okuno, who provides a deliciously deadpan mix of reverie and wisdom — acquit themselves extremely well. If the subtlety of the direction recalls the late work of Yasujiro Ozu (to whom this movie can in some ways be considered a homage), Kiarostami still manages to pull the “slow cinema” rug out from under us by literally ending things with a bang.
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Competition)
Production companies: MK2, Eurospace
Cast: Rin Takanashi, Tadashi Okuno, Ryo Kase, Denden, Mihoko Suzuki, Kaneko Kubota
Director, screenwriter: Abbas Kiarostami
Producers: Marin Karmitz, Kenzo Horikoshi
Director of photography: Katsumi Yanagijima
Production designer: Toshihiro Isomi
Costume designer: Masae Miyamoto
Editor: Bahman Kiarostami
Sales Agent: MK2
No rating, 109 minutes
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