Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Yes, but what does it mean?

An Iranian director films in Japan to sometimes baffling -- but always intriguing -- result.
Like Someone in Love -- the latest film from Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami -- may strike you as one of the most meaningful films you've seen in a long time or, if you're resistant to it, one of the more meaningless.

I'm beginning this way because a Kiarostami film requires a good deal of patience, as well as some willingness to speculate about the veiled targets at which Kiarostami and his characters have taken aim.

Ambiguously developed around an exceptionally skimpy story, Like Someone in Love offers two pleasures for the viewer who takes to it: The first involves Kiarostami's visual approach, which makes heavy use of glossy reflections and distorted views as seen through the glassy surfaces of Tokyo. It's almost as if the director wants to double and triple the meaning of everything, while also making the case that the commonplace has its own intricacies.

The second pleasure involves the mental probing that Kiarostami's images demand as we try to penetrate their purposeful ambiguity.

Kiarostami's last film -- Certified Copy -- was equally ambiguous. Set in Italy, that film seemed less intriguing to me than Like Someone in Love, which takes place in Japan and makes use of an all-Japanese cast. (Kiarostami seems to have, at least temporarily, abandoned filmmaking in Iran, a country that's not always hospitable to his kind of art.)

As is often the case with his movies, Kiarostami isn't so much interested in telling a story as in exploring the minute corners of a situation in which a college girl (Rin Takanashi) works as a prostitute, presumably to earn money for school. Early on, the young woman reluctantly submits to her pimp's pleading and takes a taxi to the home of an elderly professor (Tadashi Okumo).

Rather than pursuing a sexual encounter, Okumo's Takashi offers to serve the young woman a meal. Takanashi's Akiko declines, deciding that she'll take a nap instead.

After the professor gives the attractive young woman a ride back to campus, her possessive boyfriend ( Ryo Kase) latches on to both of them. He assumes that the professor is the young woman's grandfather. The professor does nothing to disabuse the young man of the notion. Rather, he demonstrates an increasingly protective attitude toward Akiko. By pretending to be a grandfather, he begins to act like one.

For her part, Takanashi's Akiko spends a lot of the movie in a state of irritation. She's clearly sick of her boyfriend. She has an independent streak. She's willful, and apparently tired of being ordered around by the pimp who arranges her assignations.

The movie takes place in the bar where Akiko hangs out, at the professor's book-lined apartment and in his Volvo, which he uses to drive Akiko around, and which, at one point, Kase's character generously offers to repair. Why not do a favor for his girlfriend's grandfather?

Maybe I'm making this all sound more eventful than it is. Kiarostami's cinema is one in which he invites us to explore moments that brim with suggestion.

In an odd and perhaps even disturbing way, Kase's Noriaki becomes a kind of surrogate for the audience as he tries (mostly in vain) to pin down the emotions and motivations of the two other characters. At minimum, Like Someone in Love deals with the price that comes from making assumptions about others.

All I can say is that I found myself caught up in Kiarostami's film and that includes its shockingly abrupt ending, a shattering bit of action that you sense coming only seconds before it arrives. The ending adds considerable weight to what may seem a series of artfully conceived puzzles. It does precisely what an ending should do. It demands that we continue the story in our heads. More than the end of one story, it's the start of another.

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