With a Heart of Gold, by David Bax
Abbas Kiarostami’s Like Someone in Love begins with a shot of a busy café in the evening. We hear a woman speaking. Eventually, we put it together that the shot is the woman’s point of view and that we are only hearing one side of a conversation she’s having on the phone. Still, the shot holds. After a while, we do get to actually see the woman to whom we’ve been listening but that opening shot is a perfect introduction to the rest of the film, wherein the viewer is never allowed to feel that he or she has the whole picture. Kiarostami and his cast only reveal as much as the characters want to show to one another and what each is able to infer from the other.
If the film has a single lead, it’s Akiko (Rin Takanashi), a student/escort living and working in Tokyo. Her client the night we meet her is a retired professor named Takashi (Tadashi Okuno). Over the course of a little less than 24 hours, Akiko and Takashi begin to develop a bond while Akiko weathers the suspicions of her boyfriend, Noriaki (Ryō Kase), who doesn’t know what she does for a living but is beginning to put it together.
Like Someone in Love is a series of scenes that go on longer than you think they will but never come anywhere near overstaying their welcome. Kiarostami sinks you into each scene so much so that its rhythms become as natural as inhaling and exhaling. And since every sequence more or less flows naturally into the next one, the spell remains unbroken. Despite its languid pace and the fact that relatively little actually happens, it’s the fastest couple of hours I’ve spent in a theater in some time
Kiarostami would not be able to achieve the level of naturalism he does all on his own. Any film that has probably fewer than ten speaking parts and only three real main characters is going to need to lean heavily on its actors. Takanashi’s task – to give you a recognizable idea of a person who is constantly modifying her persona to her surroundings – is perhaps the toughest and she pulls it off almost effortlessly. One scene requires her to sit in the back of a taxi and listen to twelve voicemails in a row. I could have watched it for another ten minutes. Okuno starts off with a gently doddering kindness and then slowly reveals the knowledge and sadness of a wise, older man. Kase, whom American audiences may recognize from Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima (if you recognize him from Gus Van Sant’s Restless, I’m sorry and I know your pain), makes an impression as an asshole who briefly earns empathy by revealing himself to be a naive and prideful young boy before becoming an asshole again.
Many of the film’s scenes consist of little more than two shots between which Kiarostami cuts. The slow but purposeful rhythm of his editing is key but so are the shots themselves. One could give an entire lecture on the simple urgency of any one of the film’s compositions.
Despite its mannerisms and its inclusion of the familiar but unlikely character of the prostitute just trying to pay for school, Like Someone in Love bears more resemblance to real life than most other films. The dominant mode of storytelling throughout history demands a beginning, middle and end. By the strictest definition, this film contains those elements. But there’s a persistent sense that we have been dropped into the middle of something. Throughout the movie, we get hints of other stories in each character’s life that are beginning, ending or ongoing. Characters are making and receiving phone calls, resolving arguments and even refusing to resolve arguments with people we either barely or never met. In a way likely recognizable to most of us, there’s no time for them to reflect on their own lives or one another’s.
Meanwhile, the other effect of this constant din is a feeling of unease, of tension that must be released. Phone conversations are cut off and remain yet to be resolved. A child is nearly struck by a car and his mother doesn’t realize it until after the fact. The milk has heated up in the microwave and is ready to be removed. Whether this tension comes to a satisfactory head by the end is a matter of debate. What’s sure is that, by the time it’s over, Like Someone in Love has been a fascinating revelation, not to mention a shockingly easy way to pass the time.