Home Video Hovel: Like Someone in Love, by Scott Nye
When I first saw Like Someone in Love, back at AFI Fest in November 2012, I was intrigued, but more than a little beguiled, and far from convinced of its brilliance. When I revisited it for its theatrical release the following February, I was totally floored, deeply unnerved, and left shaking. Now that it’s out on Blu-ray, I can hardly stop watching it, if only in pieces, revisiting scenes and moments to unpack everything that director Abbas Kiarostami puts in his frame, and those vital elements left just outside of it. It’s a film that encourages, perhaps even requires, multiple viewings, not to solve any great mystery, but simply to see just how fine it really is. The Criterion Collection’s new dual format release provides an outstanding outlet for precisely that.
Akiko (Rin Takanashi) is a student and a prostitute, hoping for a night off to spend time with her visiting grandmother. Her boyfriend is not the kindest man, and perhaps even has a violent streak in him. Her pimp sends her to spend the night with Takashi (Tadashi Okuno), an elderly professor who is more interested in her spirit than her body. They form a casual, unspoken bond without any declared commitment but a quick understanding of obligation. They lie about the nature of their relationship, even without anything torrid to hide. Like many of us, they pretend to be what will most conveniently allow them to be who they are.
The title of the film refers directly to a song composed by Jimmy van Heusen and Johnny Burke (the version performed by Ella Fitzgerald plays twice in the film), but it is also Akiko’s job description. She must perform the most intimate actions most commonly reserved for someone in love. It also describes her behavior towards her boyfriend; it would be wrong to say she hates him, but her love for him, these days, is born more from fear. Every second Takanashi spends onscreen in his presence is wrought with tension, her expression belying her certainty that he will erupt in rage. She behaves as a girlfriend is expected to for…what? Perhaps she fears the confrontation of their relationship ending more than continuing indefinitely as they are. Meanwhile, she treats Takashi more in the way someone in love would, and he in return, though she almost certainly is not in love with him.
In each of these interactions, Akiko behaves both according to and in relation with commonly-held ideas of romance. She is never behaving falsely, just in modulation, knowing what will win her approval, or at least get her by. These are learned reactions, not performed. We can’t very well be completely ourselves at a party or a first date, after all. We all play certain roles, certain versions of ourselves, to merge the gaps between the person we hope to be, the person we want to be seen to be, and the person we are. We may not even know precisely what each of these would look like, or which specific behaviors could be associated with them. But lying is necessary to coexist. That is Kiarostami’s subject, and his fascination.
Shot digitally, Like Someone in Love looks predictably magnificent on Blu-ray. The first twenty-five minutes, so dominated with the colors of Tokyo, are mesmerizing, radiant, and expressive of the repressed heartache with which the sequence ends. As noted before, I saw the film twice in theaters, and it never looked this good. Each image is rich, textured, and crisp. Contrast is outstanding. As one might expect from a digital source, the Blu-ray seems to represent precisely the director’s intentions (and his approval, noted on the disc, would bear this out), and with Kiarostami, those intentions are necessarily clean and, in a sense, “perfect.”
Aside from the film’s theatrical trailer, the only supplement is a 45-minute making-of documentary, but it’s all you could possibly need. Shot and narrated by Kiarostami himself, it includes only the elements that might elucidate the experience of the film, instead of the usual filler and fluff that dominates such documentaries. For instance, in the first scene in which Takashi appears, Kiarostami wanted him somewhat obscured, but the location at which they were shooting – a restaurant – didn’t allow for it. So they fashioned some opaque pieces of plastic that hung from the ceiling and covered his face. This tells us that they modified the space in which they were working, but only for a specific thematic, emotional, and aesthetic end. It’s a fascinating, immensely valuable addition to the disc.
In the booklet, we get an essay by film scholar Nico Baumbach, tying the film’s themes and emotions into Kiarostami’s entire oeuvre, as well as offering direct analysis of the film itself. It’s very sharply-written, both engaging and perceptive.
Like Someone in Love has proven to me an incredible film, one that has richly rewarded repeat viewings. It is precisely the kind of film that benefits from home video, allowing viewers to rewatch it time and time again, focus in on certain aspects, pause and devour everything a frame has to offer, or even just glance at on the shelf and reconsider. I am very happy that Criterion has added it to their collection, and hope you will consider doing so as well.