Abbas Kiarostami is an Iranian filmmaker who has been working quite prolifically since the early 1970s. Up to 2008 all of his films took place in Iran, and walked a neo-realist line. Since then he has left his native country and made two films, Certified Copy and Like Someone in Love. Certified Copy was set in Tuscany, Italy and was in Italian, French, and English. Like Someone in Love is set in Japan and is entirely in Japanese. Kiarostami is a first-rate auteur, and all of his movies, Persian or not, are immediately recognizable. If I were to use any one word to describe his work, it would be patience. Not on the part of Kiarostami and his cast and crew, but on the part of the viewer. It takes some getting used to before one can properly dive into a Kiarostami story. His camera placement is precise, the editing is routine, deep focus and misc-en-scene allowing the eye to wander, all of it void of any flash. Some may describe it as workmanlike or well crafted, but both of these descriptions are mysteriously deceptive. These are descriptions by those who can find no flaws in the movies, but also find no attachment to them as well. To enjoy a Kiarostami movie, one must find the rhythm that Kiarostami uses and then adapt to that. It’s not going to change, or suddenly speed up, it’s going to stay there, nice and constant, and if you can match that, then it’s like sitting back and enjoying jazz.
The story of Like Someone in Love involves three key players and a couple more on the periphery. Akiko (Rin Takanashi) is a University student and a call girl on the side. She doesn’t seem thrilled about being one, and the one call she goes out on, she doesn’t exactly leap at the chance to make some money. Her pimp (Denden) arranges her to take a trip an hour outside of the city for a caller. The caller is Takashi (Tadashi Okuno) an old sociology professor who pulls a Holden Caulfield when Akiko arrives and simply talks to her. Takashi begins a relationship with Akiko, one that seems of a fatherly nature, but there is a sense of something more underneath, something that Akiko seems to invite. The movie takes place over a span not more than twenty-four hours, so it is unsure of what future they have together, what they want from one another, or anything at all. What is certain is that at this moment in time, they need one another.
Akiko has a boyfriend Noriaki (Ryō Kase), and to call him the jealous type would be to slander jealous boyfriends everywhere. When he finds out that Akiko is out at a bar, he makes her go into the bathroom to count the tiles on the floor and tell him how many there are. This is so he can go back to the same bathroom, count the tiles himself and see if she was lying or not. Akiko would like to be with just about anybody other than this guy, and maybe that is why she is a call girl.
Takashi drops Akiko off at the university and there is Noriaki waiting. Noriaki meets Takashi and assumes that he is Akiko’s grandfather. Takashi goes with it, and learns that Noriaki wants to be a good fiancé, a good husband, and go through all the usual customary rituals of formally meeting parents and grandparents and seeking blessings. Maybe Noriaki isn’t as bad as Akiko would lead us, and Takashi, to believe. Noriaki tries hard to impress Takashi and shows off his skill by pointing out that the drive belt on Takashi’s car is worn and needs to be replaced, which he does (he is a mechanic) free of charge. Maybe this Noriaki is just a misunderstood guy after all. That all unwinds in about twenty-minutes when he hits Akiko. It is off-screen, we don’t know why or how many times, but Akiko calls Takashi crying and when Takashi picks her up, she has a bloody lip.
Takashi rescues Akiko and takes her home to care for her. The violent Noriaki suddenly interrupts what could be a nice and domestic scene of two people playing the roles of Grandfather and Granddaughter when he tries to force his way into the apartment. Unsure of what to do, neither Takashi nor Akiko do anything. They wait until Noriaki throws a rock through the window, shattering their lives and the calm of the movie. Kiarostami chooses this point to stop the movie and roll credits. He knows that this scene will not end well, and is not interested in seeing it all fall apart. This is where most Hollywood movies start: a bang, a conflict, something tearing the delicate fabricate of society apart. Here is where Kiarostami ends his. That is the inherent riddle in the movie that requires each viewer to reconcile on his or her own meaning.
Like Someone In Love? What is to be made of that title? A jazz standard written by Jimmy van Heusen and Johnny Burke, Kirastomi uses the Ella Fitzgerald version for the end credits, but is that the only reference? Could it be referring to one of the characters? What Takashi feels for Akiko is more paternal love than anything else. What Akiko feels for Takashi, Noriaki, herself is anything but love. That leaves us with Noriaki, and what he feels for Akiko is most definitely love, or at least, a very obsessive, destructive form of love. No one ever claimed that being in love was calm and clean, in fact most describe it as something that is all-consuming, painful, obsessive, and if not reciprocated, devastating. Is Noriaki acting like someone in love? Yes. Are we okay with these actions? No. He abuses Akiko mentally and physically, he is controlling, and consuming of her. But, he wants to marry her, he wants her to be only for him. The conversation that he has with Takashi outside the university shows that he thinks marriage will solve all of their problems. Once they are married, and everything is above-board, then she will fall into line and be obedient, and he won’t have to worry about her and constantly monitor her. How many people in love have had similar thoughts, “Once we get married, once we have a kid, once we…” That is acting like someone in love.
It is easy to point the finger at Noriaki and claim that he is the bad guy, but Akiko is also to blame. After all, she is the one deceiving and lying to her fiancé, sneaking off, taking side jobs as a call girl. Clearly she isn’t victim-less, but is she acting like someone in love? Hard to say, because we don’t get a clear idea of what or whom she might be in love with. Catching up with The Perks of Being a Wallflower on DVD, I was struck by its central premise, summed up beautifully in the dialog, “Why do we choose people who treat us like we’re nothing? We accept the love we think we deserve.” Like Someone In Love is a study of broken people who are beyond mending the places they are broken, and maybe they don’t even care. Why end the movie where it does? Probably because that hole in the window is never going to get fixed, these issue won’t ever be resolved, and frankly, it just gets worse from here on out. Que sera, sera.