Judge Jason Panella is like someone in trouble.
"When you know you may be lied to, it's best not to ask questions."
Abbas Kiarostami's latest gets an excellent release from the Criterion Collection.
Facts of the Case
College student Akiko (Rin Takanashi, Goth) spends her evenings as a call girl in Tokyo. She reluctantly meets her latest client, an octogenarian named Takashi (Tadashi Okuno). But the retired professor is more interested in conversation and dinner than sex, and connection that forms between the two has unforeseen consequences when Akiko's boyfriend (Ryô Kase, Letters from Iwo Jima) becomes jealous.
Director Abbas Kiarostami (Close-Up) makes the sort of films that drive a lot of people crazy. The Iranian filmmaker has no patience for the language of Hollywood cinema; he instead lets his films unfold at their own natural pace with little in the way of context or resolution. After decades of only working in Iran, Like Someone In Love is the second film Kiarostami made outside of his homeland (the first was 2010's Certified Copy). The director uses the new location to wade through some really fascinating waters.
Like Someone in Love isn't a traditional narrative, with a story moving from point A to point B. Sure, there are characters and they do things, but Kiarostami seems more interested in just letting the characters inhabit the space he creates on the screen. Which makes sense, considering Kiarostami's formal training as a painter and graphic designer. The director favors long, measured shots that often feel like a string of connected tapestries. Kiarostami's spatial awareness is astonishing, too—where the cast is located on screen (or not located) is often as important as the dialogue. Anyway, instead of holding the audience's hand, Kiarostami ushers viewers so close to what's happening on the screen that I felt like I was a part of the story. For instance, the film begins with Akiko in a nightclub, arguing with her boyfriend Noriaki on her cell phone. But it takes some time to even fully latch onto this, since the camera is placed so intimately within the scene. This sort of thing continues throughout the film, including an extended long shot that stands out as one of the best things in the film. In order to accommodate her client, Akiko had to ditch her visiting grandmother. Confined to the taxicab taking her to the rendezvous, Akiko strains to see her grandmother as she passes by where they were supposed to meet. Kiarostami lets the wide shot carry on as both Akiko and the audience can barely make out the old woman—you have to strain to see the grandmother, and as her figure finally becomes more noticeable she's blocked by passing vehicles. On paper, it sounds fairly boring; on screen, it's heartbreaking.
But Kiarostami isn't only removing barriers. By filming in a country where he can't speak the native language, Kiarostami seems to have intentionally erected obstacles for himself. The layers of obfuscation between the director and his cast gives the latter additional agency, with some of the actors' choices affecting the final outcome. The theme of barriers even carries over to the screen, as the obstructing and alienating aspects of technology are a recurring theme in the film. One of Kiarostami's main concerns, though, is how want of intimacy causes people to take on different personas. The film's title is apt, too—all of the characters are acting like they're in love. Each of the film's segment seems to eventually focus on one of the characters playing a role, sometimes without the characters realizing it. These characters see themselves a certain way—the dutiful boyfriend, the grandfatherly influence—but the truth is usually removed from that. The three leads here are lonely people, and Like Someone In Love does an incredible job sitting with them and contemplating the manifestations of love.
Which, of course, is probably not going to sound like a lot of fun for most people. There is some humor and unexpected tension in the film, but there's no mistaking this for a typical drama. It's not straight-up art house, either. Kiarostami has been following his own muses since the 1970s, and Like Someone In Love is really its own thing.
The Criterion Collection's dual-format release of Like Someone In Love (Blu-ray) is excellent. The 1.66:1/1080p transfer is consistently sharp, with incredible detail and clarity. Colors feel natural, and the movie really pops when Kiarostami gets his camera into cars (seriously, some of the shots that involve reflections sliding over automobile windshields are stunning). It's an incredibly beautiful-looking movie. The Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 3.0 surround track is also fantastic in its simplicity. Kiarostami's exclusive use of diegetic sound lets the focus shift to little sounds—the bustle of daily life on the Tokyo streets, the thump of a book on a table, and so on. Dialogue is also incredibly clear. In addition to a DVD version of the film, Criterion provides a few excellent extras. Too bad there aren't more! There's the trailer for the film (2:10); the fantastic documentary "The Making of Like Someone In Love" (47:01), where Kiarostami really digs into his thought process and methods for the film; and a full-color booklet that includes the essay "On Likeness" by Columbia University professor Nico Baumbach.
While it's probably not for the casual movie fan, Abbas Kiarostami's Like Someone In Love is another exceptional release from the Iranian director. The Criterion Collection's dual-format release is a little short on extras, but otherwise excellent. I highly recommend this one.
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