Sunday, November 11, 2012

Like Someone In Love

Abbas Kiarostami has gone to Japan, and why not? Like Someone In Love is less obviously tricksy than his last, and his first outside of Iran, Certified Copy [2010]; and it reveals a little more of what was obvious all along – that Kiarostami’s interests lie in people, identity, and communication (between characters, and with the audience), rather than in cultural specificity. This is no more a film about Japan than the last was a film about Tuscany, or the others – really – are about Iran.

It’s a film about three people, in a (presumably) brief encounter. A young escort is sent to spend the night with an aged professor, and in the morning, as he drops her at college, her fiancé mistakes the old man for her grandfather. People have long, unhurried conversations, frequently in cars. They talk of important things like marriage, but Kiarostami has never been one to underline dialogue. Even in a language unknown to him, he once again conjures the textures and rhythms of everyday life, as conducted by at least moderately thoughtful people.

As the escort Akiko sits in the back of her cab near the start, she listens to her voicemail: seven messages. Most of them are from her grandmother. We feel as though we already have the picture, from Akiko’s comments about her grandmother coming to Tokyo, wanting to meet, the girl ignoring the calls. Yet by playing the messages out over a simple montage of Akiko’s largely impassive face, and her nighttime neon-street point of view, Kiarostami imposes the measured, real-time pace and duration that accumulates into a genuine empathy for all concerned, when Akiko has the cab driver circle the railway station and the small, waiting figure of her relative.

That she has him do it twice seems a bit unnecessary; as does the grandmother’s finding a phone-booth card advertising the good time that can be had from a girl who looks a lot like Akiko. This latter sets up a later confrontation however, and ushers in a theme that is present from the film’s first moments, that of misidentification. The first shot is of a buzzing bar, and we have no idea who is speaking, or whether she is telling the truth about her whereabouts and her companion. That mystery is cleared up, but few others will be. We assume, for example, that Akiko is an escort, but she seems more inclined to go to sleep than sleep with the professor, whilst he would rather they have supper together, and doesn’t seem at all bothered to turn out the bedroom light on her.

Earlier, they had discussed Akiko’s resemblance to both a painting and a photo in Professor Watanabe’s study. The ability to identify correctly is further undermined by the ease with which boyfriend Noriaki assumes the old man is Akiko’s grandfather on the following morning. Even the curtain-twitching neighbor makes the same mistake. The film’s title is a clear indication that appearances and assumptions should not necessarily be taken as more than that. Each of the characters (even the neighbor) appears to be like someone in love. Admittedly, Watanabe wins automatic sympathy by being a slightly rheumy, mole-eyed old man with a gentle, avuncular manner, but he seems taken with a Akiko in a way that could be infatuation, or an old man’s pleasure of pretending the same, in the company of erotic youth. Noriaki looks very like he’s in love with Akiko; at least to him, it seems as though she returns the sentiment, but their relationship is overwhelmed by his jealousy, and by her having to keep her occupation secret.

The information withheld, and the play of (mis)identification within the film could come off like a warning, or a lesson to be taught the audience by the film-maker of superior insight (à la smug, derisive Haneke). The incredibly controlled mise-en-scène and sly, deliberate manipulation indicate that Kiarostami enjoys wrong-footing us. But it is a playful wrong-footing, and even in the slightly infuriating Certified Copy, one feels that he enjoys partaking of it along with us – confusion, error and ignorance are a fundamental part of the human condition. The jolt of an ending plays like a cheap shock at first, and an easy way out, and leaves us wondering what exactly just happened, but it is a neat circling back to the unsurety of the first scene. The film is meant to achieve no greater thing than capture our attention with a little pocket of life, over a night and a morning, and to remind us in gentle fashion not to take appearances and our assumptions for granted.

d/sc Abbas Kiarostami p Marin Karmitz, Horikoshi Kenzo ph Yanagijima Katsumi ed Bahman Kiarostami pd Isomi Toshihiro cast Takanashi Rin, Okuno Tadashi, Kase Ryo, Denden, Suzuki Mihoko, Kubota Kaneko
(2012, Fr/Jap, 109m)
posted by tom newth at

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