Kiarostami Abroad: Like Someone in Love

With his second feature shot abroad, “Like Someone in Love,” following the Italy-set “Certified Copy,” Iranian auteur Abbas Kiarostami proves that he can work anywhere.

The more significant question is whether or not he can still make the same intriguing films that he used to make in home.  World-premiering at the Cannes Film Fest, “Like Someone in Love” was one of the weaker features in the Main Competition.

The elegantly shot “Certified Copy,” which boasted a graceful performance by Juliette Binoche (who won Best Actress at the Cannes Fest), was an enjoyable romantic mystery, and Kiarostami’s most accessible film in a four-decade-career.

Continuing his explorations of unrequited love, in narratives that unfold like ambiguous puzzles, “Like Someone in Love” is not as accessible or commercial; it’s too ambiguous and enigmatic for mainstream viewers.

The film begins very slowly, defined by deliberate pacing, builds up some interest (if not real dramatic momentum), but just ends abruptly and arbitrarily, as if the director did not know what to do with the story, or how to end it on a more satisfying note.

Set in Tokyo, the tale centers on a young, appealing student Akiko (Rin Takanashi) who works as an escort.  She seems bored, exhausted, disenchanted, and restless, as she awaits for her new assignation.

Akiko is sent out on a job to the suburbs, and what follows is a long (interminable) scene, in which she is in the backseat of a taxicab, checking out her messages and texting.  Upon arrival, she is surprised to find out that her client is a gentle, kind, older academic who answers to the name of Takashi (Tadashi Okuno).

The essence of the story is in the evolving relationship between the young woman and the shy old man, who engage, like in “Certified Copy,” in various games and role-playing.  Some tension is introduced when Takashi gives advice to Akiko’s mechanic boyfriend Noriaki (Ryo Kase), who claims to be her fiancé, and may now dangerously find out how Akiko makes money.

Kiarostami explores semi-effectively how social norms of a rigid society influence the personalities of both young and older members, forcing them into intriguing, often unexpected role-playing that is determined by situational forces.

“Like Someone in Love” may be too ironic a title for the kind of story that actually unfolds on screen.