(This is a second view of Kiarostami’s film. An earlier posting by Roy is here and the responses are slightly different.)
This is the new film written and directed by Abbas Kiarostami. It is a French / Japanese production of 2012, and partly financed by both French and Japanese cultural agencies. Kiarostami tends to divide critics and audiences, some love him and some are fairly disdainful. I am a fan, though since he moved from films produced in Iran to films that are produced internationally I have been less impressed. I found Certified Copy (Copie conforme 2009) a film in which style appear to dominate substance. Whilst I enjoyed this film much more, I still think that is a weakness.
Kiarostami’s films have always continued a large amount of both wit and irony. And he invariably plays with and subverts the conventional film narrative. However, in his Iranian films I also experienced an emotional power that made one really think about Iran and its culture. A Taste of Cherry (Ta’ame-Gilas, 1997) with its suicidal protagonist is a fine example. In Like Someone in Love we have a sexual triangle: a young woman student who also moonlights in ‘escort’ work, Akiko (Takanashi Rin): an elderly male academic Watanabe Takashi (Okuno Tadashi): and Akiko’s possessive boyfriend, a car mechanic, Higuchi Noriaki (Kase Ryo). Their relationships are full of misconceptions, mental disguises and misunderstandings, typical of Kiarostami. And the whole film is suffused with both a gentle irony and substantial ambiguities. It is also beautifully stylish. The opening long take presents a bar full of people whilst an off-screen voice talks into a mobile phone. This is typical Kiarostami, and the cinematography is lustrous [by Yanagijima Katsumi in colour and 1.66:1]. Right through the film there are stunning camera shots excellent definition and an evocative colour palette, [which I don’t will reproduce fully on DVD or Blu-Ray]. And the soundtrack, as with then opening, is both beguiling and ambivalent. A number of reviews have pointed out parallels with the style of films by Yasujiro Ozu.
Tony Rayns in Sight & Sound (July 2013) makes the point that “The film is ultimately a morphed sequel to Through the Olive trees (Zir-e Derkhatab-e Zeytun, 1994). This is an intelligent parallel. The earlier film also features three central characters, one older, two younger. And there is an Iranian equivalent of the possessiveness in plot of the new film. However, there is a different feel to the endings, both of which are extremely ambiguous. In Through the Olive Trees the young man and woman are both in the centre of the image, though this is an extreme long shot. In Like Someone in Love all three of the main protagonists are outside the final frame, and we only hear one of their voices on the sound track. For me this ending downplayed the emotional side and empathised the play aspect.
In fact nearly all of Kiarostami’s films end in a similar fashion. They cut off the narrative before any clear resolution and closure. But this serial repetition in his films now seems to have become as conventional for him as conventional endings are in many other films. Tony Rayns ends his review by commenting “The one thing that’s for sure is that this masterly filmmaker is sufficiently open-minded to work wherever he chooses without compromising the integrity of his questions.” The ability to work ‘wherever’ is due to Kiarostami’s status in International and Festival cinemas. But for me the move has diminished something in his work. As is often the case with an artist, the context in which he worked, however fraught for Iranian filmmakers, gave his work a substance which I fear has not travelled with him.
Kiarostami himself, in an interview in the BBC Film Programme 2005 was quoted as saying:
transplanted tress don’t fruit so well.