Review: Like Someone in Love

Akiko is a young student in modern-day Tokyo, a large city full of brightly-lit imposing skyscrapers and a place where it is easy to slip into loneliness and anonymity. We learn in a long first sequence much about Akiko, more than we may at first realise. Indeed the sequence and its few cuts are arranged so perfectly that in fact, we are held in intrigue about who is talking to whom for a very long time, before the camera reveals a seemingly shy young woman talking on the phone. Akiko doubles as an escort and her relationship with her boyfriend is filled with tension (he is growing suspicious and controlling over her).

We follow Akiko as she is coerced into visiting the home of an elderly professor for the evening, despite the fact that she has an examination in the morning and that her grandmother (only in Tokyo for 24 hours) has been waiting for her all day in the hope of seeing her. We ask ourselves, who is Akiko? How has she got herself into this? Is she as innocent and naïve as she appears?

There is a masterful shot wherein a stationary camera notes the change in Akiko’s character. It takes us by surprise. Akiko, at the professor’s house, asks to use the bathroom. She goes in a shy young girl and comes out a sensuous, confident young woman – taking the pin out of her hair and swaying her hips languidly, sensually. It befuddles the old man as much as it does us.

The professor in question, played by Tadashi Okuno, is a lonely man, very intelligent and kind. He has asked Akiko to his home not so much for sex, as for company. He makes a conscious effort to play house, to fill up his loneliness and we see, quietly and with a sad, gentle tinge of humour, how those efforts are frustrated.

Abbas Kiarostami, the Iranian director behind such films as Taste of Cherry, Ten and the recent Certified Copy  has always been a bit of a mystery to me. I do not connect naturally with his films in general and I was very much disappointed with Certified Copy. This is the first film of his I have actually enjoyed – and I enjoyed it greatly – because it did something to me which no film of his has ever done before. It moved me. Kiarostami has made a very gentle and very sad film about the frustration and impossibility of intimacy in the modern world. It is characteristically elliptical, and contains many long and perfectly directed sequences of people speaking, especially in cars; a trademark of Kiarostami. There are two scenes in particular that are the most poignant I have seen in a while: the evening spent together by Akiko and the professor and Akiko in the taxi on the way to his house, as reflections of skyscrapers in the car window play across her face, listening to messages left on her answer phone by her grandmother, abandoned at the railway station.

The surface simplicity of this film hides a very great complexity underneath. In the second act of the film, Kiarostami explores in greater depth the notion of masks and identity, how we wish to hide who we really are. Indeed the entire way through the characters that we meet, all isolated, all wishing somehow to find escape from it, assume identities, sometimes protective, that mask their real selves, until finally reality comes crashing (quite literally) through the window.

Many people have complained about the ending, quite understandably. It is very abrupt and I was deeply unsatisfied with it when I first left the cinema. From a narrative perspective, it is unsatisfactory, the story feels like it wants to continue. But there are reasons that Kiarostami may have wished to end his film like this, which reflection and perhaps a second viewing will reveal to the unsatisfied viewer. What there is of the film is perfectly handled, the gentle pace blending subtleties and nuances that should be relished. Like Someone in Love is made by a man who understands a lot about poetry and little about drama but what wonderful poetry he has offered!

12A Certificate

Review by LiveWire Film Critic, James Martin (June ’13)