‘Like Someone in Love’ an astonishing, entrancing character study
Directed by Abbas Kiarostami
Written by Abbas Kiarostami
France and Japan, 2012
The three main characters of Like Someone in Love are introverted and desperate for connection, yet that desperation is what separates them so violently from the world around them. A college student, a volatile mechanic, and a kindly widower would seem to have nothing in common, but a series of events forces them together, revealing how lonely they are and how unable they are to change their circumstances no matter how hard they try. This new film from Iranian writer-director Abbas Kiarostami is typically patient, and builds surprisingly powerful tension throughout as the distance between this trio, this gulf, becomes so great as to consume them.
Rin Takanashi is Akiko, a young woman struggling to get by at college in Tokyo. As the story unfolds, it’s revealed that, to supplement her income, Akiko moonlights as a prostitute, much to the displeasure of her jealous boyfriend Noriaki (Ryō Kase). One night, Akiko goes to her next assignment, at the house of an elderly widower and retired sociology professor, Takashi (Tadashi Okuno). As Takashi learns more about Akiko, he becomes invested in her life outside of work, and soon finds himself facing down Noriaki. One of the strengths of Kiarostami’s script is allowing this character, who could so easily become a cartoonish lug, humanity and familiar desires. But as the tentative connections get closer, Like Someone in Love tightens its grip on us, making the third act far more suspenseful than you’d expect.
Kiarostami’s style isn’t absent here, even as Like Someone in Love is only his second film set and shot outside of his native Iran. Much of the 110-minute film is presented in static shots. The world outside may move around Akiko, Noriaki, and Takashi, but their interior worlds never budge. And a good chunk of the film takes place inside moving vehicles, such as Takashi’s old sedan, especially in the second half of the story. This directorial choice contributes to Like Someone in Love feeling particularly claustrophobic, the frame frequently boxing us into a specific, deliberately vague line of vision. (The first shot of the film, for example, provides us Akiko’s point of view in a café, even though we can’t see her, thus divorcing us from what’s really going on in her head.) Katsumi Yanagijima’s cinematography is so compressing, and frequently telling, offering us subtle clues as to the various revelations within this short-story-like film.
The main trio are all outstanding, partly because Kiarostami never allows one to dominate over the others. Though we begin with Akiko, failing to assert herself alongside a school friend who’s also a fellow prostitute, once she visits Takashi, the camera lingers as much on him as it does her as she charmingly tells a family anecdote related to a painting he owns. Takanashi is alluring in a demure way, though she’s also very fragile. An early scene where she takes a taxi, listening to a series of messages from her visiting grandmother, wishing to see her—something that won’t happen, Akiko already knows—starts wistfully and ends as something more heartbreaking. The subtle shifts in her reaction to each subsequent message border on the tragic. Kase has the most visceral role to play, as we meet Noriaki while berating Akiko in public. But Kase quickly proves his vulnerability as a performer, as Noriaki unloads his many neuroses on Takashi, in a pleasantly surprising sequence.
Okuno is the true core of the film, though; Takashi is a paternal figure to both Akiko and Noriaki, willing in one case and unwilling in the other. As Takashi, Okuno is perhaps most relatable, even though we’re always kept in suspense wondering what exactly lies in his past that would lead him to request the services of a young prostitute, one who looks so like his dead wife. Even so, Okuno’s work, especially in the centerpiece conversation with Noriaki, is exemplary.
Like Someone in Love is a movie that waits to emphasize its emotional power, avoiding cheap melodrama. Its methodical evaluation of three people who want so badly to not be alone anymore is somewhat devastating in its precise nature. In these disaffected, distant people, we can see ourselves, even if we’d rather not. Abbas Kiarostami’s latest film may have taken him, again, out of his nationalistic comfort zone, but Like Someone in Love is an astonishing (especially in the last, deliberately abrupt scene) and exacting character study, patient and painful in equal measure.
— Josh Spiegel