Pretty much epitomises what Abbas Kiarostami does so well – taking the mundane and making it profound. Homayoun Ershadi stars as a seemingly ordinary man driving around the hillsides on the outskirts of Tehran. He stops and engages with almost every individual he encounters – is he lost? is he in need of help? Slowly it is revealed that he is looking for someone to bury him after he has committed suicide. Unsurprisingly he struggles to find someone willing to participate, but in the process has a number of fascinating conversations that reveal much about the individuals, but also about the current state of Iran.
The latest from Abbas Kiarostami (Taste of Cherry) sees the Iranian auteur continue his globe-trotting which began with 2010’s Certified Copy. In Like Someone in Love, he heads for Japan, following a “day in the life” – or rather a night and the following morning – of young prostitute, Akiko (Takanashi Rin). Through a series of lengthy, almost theatrically staged conversations, we see her first negotiate an evening away from her overbearing boyfriend, before being packed off by her boss (Denden) to a respectable client living some miles away. On arrival, the exhausted young woman discovers that her client is an elderly academic, now living a reclusive existence in the suburbs. He is looking for companionship and stimulating conversation – what he really needs is a trained geisha, rather than Akiko’s occasional good-time girl – and struggles to make a connection. However, as the story unfolds this unlikely pair do find common ground, especially when Akiko’s boyfriend, Noriaki (Kase Ryo), re-enters the picture.
As is often the case with Kiarostami’s work, the film is not driven by a densely plotted narrative, but simply by interesting, complex characters negotiating their way through the minefields of everyday life. Like Someone in Love introduces us to a young couple battling for superiority in their rocky relationship, who are forced to interact with a man from a whole other generation, with whom they have nothing whatsoever in common. He is clearly taken aback by the way they talk and behave, both to each other and to him, while of equal interest is how their behavior and personalities adapt in order to accommodate this gentle senior, to whom they must show respect and courtesy – things they are stubbornly unwilling to show each other.
The result is a gentle, yet absorbing film that takes its time and reveals itself slowly, but proves incredibly engaging from start to finish. We feel genuine sympathy for Akiko and are predisposed to see Noriaki as an antagonist and villain, if you will. However, our opinion of him is also challenged in the later stages of the film. All the while, we must also strive to understand Akiko’s client, Watanabe Takashi (Okuno Tadashi) – a man of great intellect, wit and understanding, who is forced to adapt his role in the story and their lives. He is introduced to us as something of a dirty old pervert, calling out for a dial-a-date girlfriend in the dead of night, but by the end of the film has morphed into a man of honour and decency – which ironically leaves him all-the-more vulnerable.
Despite the note-perfect performances, naturalistic writing and finely paced direction, there remains something cold and inconsequential about Like Someone in Love. There is no doubt that it is the work of a master filmmaker, but can’t help but feel like a minor entry in the oeuvre of someone capable of saying so much more. Kiarostami proves himself to be adaptable and understanding of Japanese sensibilities, but Like Someone in Love – like Akiko and her colleagues – can only pleasure us for a short while, before we part ways and all is soon forgotten.