Spoiler Scale (How spoilery is this article on a scale of 1 to 10?): 4
A call girl, her john, and her boyfriend get into a car … No, there’s no punchline. Rather, this scenario happens to be one of the unlikely human intersections in Like Someone in Love – the most recent film by writer/director Abbas Kiarostami. In only his second feature film set outside his native Iran, Kiarostami takes us on a ride through urban and suburban Tokyo, tracking a day in the life of a college student (Rin Takanashi), whose anonymity as the said call girl is eroding, and her unlikely client, an elderly semi-retired professor (Tadashi Okuno).
From the sleight of hand of the opening sequence through one of the most abrupt endings in the history of narrative film, Kiarostami’s uniquely compelling visuals are buttressed by strong performances. And although there is certainly a measured pace, Like Someone in Love is a refreshingly straightforward affair from Kiarostami – one of the most enigmatic auteurs in international cinema.
On its surface, Like Someone in Love is a contemplation of how we make deep connections with others. The shared experience of life lies in the immediate present (and not so much in our pasts), and the strangers with whom we share those moments can become our closest allies. As we build our own identities – often rife with contradictions – our family, our lovers, and our friends can burden us with their expectations and judgments.
But then there is the provacatively jolting conclusion. At one point in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999), a married doctor finds himself waiting with anticipation in a prostitute’s bedroom, and in our view of him lies a textbook entitled “Introducing Sociology.” Kiarostami employs the same signposts here, and within this context, the meaning of the film’s ending may not be as elusive as some reviewers have suggested. Whether it works or not is debatable, and that is the point.
For all of the strengths of Like Someone in Love, however, there is also a certain smugness. Two overt references to Kiarostami’s previous film, Certified Copy (2011) (a gimmicky riff on Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise (1995)), will likely generate lengthy pontifications among cine-bloggers about links, potential trilogies, etc., but for those of us not inclined to engage in the requisite mental gymnastics, only one really adds to this particular story or the characters involved. And then there is title of the film – a reference to the swoony jazz standard which appears twice on the film’s soundtrack with timing suggestive of little more than irony for irony’s sake.
Now that I’ve seen the film myself, I can say more confidently, great write-up! You nailed the film’s query, I think; I love this line, which sums up so much about the film: “As we build our own identities – often rife with contradictions – our family, our lovers, and our friends can burden us with their expectations and judgments.”
I didn’t feel a smugness in the film as you did – I’m not sure why because I think I can understand why you might feel that. I suppose the relationships and emotions – their poignancy – felt so true to me that it didn’t seem Kiarostami felt himself to be above them. And if he wasn’t above them then he was as with them in their struggles as I was, just guiding me as a viewer more than forcing me to accept some idea that he, in his superiority, has figured out. Thus, any irony feels much closer to despair, perhaps, than triteness or smugness. And I saw the obvious thematic connections (and allusions) to Certified Copy in this film more as a genuine continued exploration for Kiarostami into the ideas he’s interested in. I see a connection to his much earlier film, The Wind Will Carry Us, and even A Taste of Cherry, too, and so, with the connections among all those films, I somehow can’t see Kiarostami as smug – those themes are just the bone he continues to worry over, so to speak.
I did not react as positively to ‘Certified Copy’ as most others did (including my better half), which is probably part of it. I guess my point was – I can understand the use of false identities, but really, what did the whole thing with the painting have to do with this particular film?
I feel obliged to ask you: What was your verdict on (1) the ending; and (2) the film as a whole?
It’s always great to read your thoughts on my blog and hope to return the favor sometime soon 🙂
I just wrote about the film on my blog (hurrah! finally some time to write a little before I dive back into teaching for the spring quarter) here: http://ajournaloffilm.blogspot.com/2013/03/lonely-as-this-finger-abbas-kiarostamis.html – but to more briefly answer your questions:
The painting: I think the painting ties in to the “likenesses” that run throughout the film, to how we perceive/identify ourselves, to how others perceive/identify us, to interpretations of ourselves and of others – and to our understanding that they are only interpretations and yet we cling to them anyway and hope to see some truth in them. Akiko’s uncle told her the portrait was herself; he knew it wasn’t, but she at first believed it was; later, she found out it wasn’t she, and yet I think she still clung, in some sense, to that first identification/self-identification. She still wanted to hold up her hair and show just how much she looked like the portrait. (I’ve been thinking, actually, the film has some connection with Rashomon – the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, the question those stories inevitably lead to which involves how we might truly connect with others if our own identities – and theirs – are so fluid.)
My verdict on the ending: It shocked me at first and for a split second, I think, felt slightly put-out. 🙂 But I’ve come around to loving it as it’s a physical shattering of all the reflective surfaces we’ve seen throughout the film and therefore of all the assumptions, interpretations, and translations we’ve seen about identity – and by extension – relationship throughout, too. The boyfriend’s rage reflects, in some sense, I think, our own frustration (and the characters’) in trying to see and to understand the film and the identities of those in the film and being thwarted or confused in doing so. The shattering glass speaks to a desire to connect to another person without that reflective barrier between, without lies, without stories, without interpretations. The shattering, of course, doesn’t offer a solution – it certainly won’t mend the relationship between Akiko and her boyfriend – but it represents a true response, I think, and a desire for connection. The glass will have to be repaired – we can never have so direct a contact with things around us, we need those windows – but we want that direct contact and maybe for a split second direct contact is possible.
The film as a whole: I loved it. 🙂 I like Certified Copy a lot, but this film has a warmth to it and a simplicity to it that I respond to much more, even while I can still interact with and be challenged by the density of the details and complexity of the themes.
I always appreciate it when commentors set me straight – making me think of something I did not recognize the first time around. It makes blogging seem worthwhile. … As I read your verdict on the ending, I came to the conclusion that perhaps my immediate response was motivated not by the jolt but by an emotional disappointment in a lack of narrative closure. (e.g., Who threw the brick? What will happen to the professor and the student? etc.) I need to see it again with a different perspective, I think.
Let’s think of it more as a conversation than as me setting you straight! 🙂 I think a conversation with my husband after the film helped us both figure what to do with the ending – and I think your response/idea adds more to our conversation and to my own thinking in writing; it adds a nuance that should be addressed. We DO want that narrative closure, don’t we – especially if the film as succeeded in making us care about the characters? We always want to know the end of the story that we are interested in. Even a sad ending is, at least, an ending. But this film gives us, what? in terms of the characters’ story? Not much. And I think we have to ask if the denial we get at the end truly serves the film’s purpose, a purpose that follows a path different from the traditional narrative one, and serves it so well we’re willing to give up the emotional, narrative satisfaction we want. I had to grapple with it for a while to figure out if I was willing, and I find I am, but I could certainly see how another viewer might decide, no, he or she is not willing – there just isn’t enough of something else going on to make it worth it.