Like Someone in Love
A subtly tender film from Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami
Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami seeks not so much layers of ambiguity as areas of it: pockets of his films contain mysteries that we know we'll never fathom. Yet often his work seems surprisingly transparent, simple in the minimalism of event and the un-ostentatious nature of the form. Kiarostami is the master of the obvious detail withheld. What is it the central character in The Wind Will Carry Us is looking for? Why does Mr Badii in Taste of Cherry want to kill himself? In Like Someone in Love a key moment remains undivulged and, as is often the case in Kiarostami's work, we hear someone long before a face is matched to the words, leaving us room to speculate on a person's looks on the basis of their voice.
This beautiful, subtly tender and narratively slight film, set in Japan, begins one evening when a young student and prostitute Akiko (Rin Takanashi) goes off to service a special client. What she gets is someone who wants to treat her as a cross between a first date and a granddaughter. Kiarostami leaves this ambiguity in place through ellipsis, and the next day the former sociology professor (Tadashi Okuno) drives her to university in a gesture that will be taken to be grandfatherly by Akiko's boyfriend Noriaki (Ryo Kase), who is waiting at the university gates. After an altercation with Akiko, Noriaki sees the professor sitting in the car and asks if he can have a chat, believing the old man is her granddad.
What Kiarostami does so well here is gentle irony: irony without harsh judgement. It might be ironic that Akiko takes the professor as a surrogate grandfather even as she has earlier that day missed her grandmother's visit to Tokyo and ignored her calls. And it might seem ironic that Noriaki goes to the older man to ask for Akiko's hand in marriage, when the professor may well be another man with a sexual interest in her. However, Kiarostami's subtlety resides in leaving us unable to make certain categorical claims because of the tentativeness of representation.
This is evident in perhaps the film's key line, ‘When you know you may be lied to, it's best not to ask questions. That's what we learn from experience’. This has wisdom in it, but Kiarostami is a filmmaker rather than a sage, and we might muse over its echo. The remark comes shortly before the professor says that he could be Noriaki's grandfather as readily as Akiko's, and just after Noriaki has talked of his own grandfather's counsel that ‘when you find your better half you have to marry her’. Is Akiko really the better half Noriaki's grandfather would expect? Kiarostami's wisdom doesn't come in the bluntness of the advice, but in the reverberations he provides us with and the gaps he expects us to fill. As the great Persian poet Rumi proposed: ‘listen to presences inside poems/let them take you where they will/Follow these private hints/and never leave the premises.’
If this might not be amongst Kiarostami's very best films (Close-Up, A Taste of Cherry, The Wind Will Carry Us), it is nevertheless a very fine one, and a good companion piece to his previous film, the Tuscan set Copie Conforme.
Limited release from Fri 21 Jun.