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Like Someone in Love

Posted by martinteller on August 24, 2014

With Certified Copy, director Abbas Kiarostami left his home territory of Iran to venture to Italy, with dialogue in English and French.  Here he continues his globe-trotting, this time to Japan.  The story concerns a young woman named Akiko (Rin Takanishi), working her way through college as a prostitute.  Her fiancé Noriaki (Ryô Kase) doesn’t know about her work, but he’s overbearing and suspicious, constantly hounding her on the phone and questioning her whereabouts.  Akiko gets called to the home of Takashi Watanabe (Tadashi Okuno), a former sociology professor who is more interested in companionship — and someone to take care of — than physical intimacy.

And so forth.  Things develop, but as always, plot is not primary among Kiarostami’s concerns.  I know I’m in a small minority, but I didn’t care much for Certified Copy.  I felt it was too wrapped up in its own cleverness, and any thoughts it provoked were fairly shallow.  It certainly didn’t have the impact that Close-Up or The Wind Will Carry Us or the “Koker trilogy” had on me.  In this film, I was to see less attention paid to cleverness, although the film’s meanings are somewhat elusive.  But there are wonderfully intriguing elements.  Like A Taste of Cherry, the movie plays out in real time… for the most part.  There is a break in chronology halfway through to transition from night to the next morning, and a few seconds may be elided here and there.  The sense that things are unfolding as we watch adds to the unsettling tension the film elicits.

We have a feeling that things are not going to go well for Akiko.  The opening shot is a stunning bit of disorientation, as you see the interior of a busy nightclub and listen to an unknown speaker.  Your eyes study all the faces, trying to determine where the voice is coming from.  Soon it becomes clear you’re listening to one side of a conversation, and you start looking for someone on a phone.  It’s only after several minutes that the film cuts to a reverse shot, and we see Akiko.  She has been invisible, unseen among the Tokyo crowd.  Her identity is diminished not only by the defensive, submissive tone of her words, but by the camera itself.  And from that moment, we feel the camera invading privacy.  Cinema is always a voyeuristic act, but it’s keenly felt here, especially in a moment where we literally spy on Akiko through a neighbor’s window.  We are privy to what goes on in the protective cocoon of an automobile (as so often happens in Kiarostami pictures, much of the action occurs inside a car).

I realize this review isn’t very cohesive, but the film itself doesn’t dictate how you should react to it.  That includes the abrupt ending, which some object to but I found to be just the jolt that the film ought to close on.  What it says about these characters, their roles in each other’s lives, the society they live in… I don’t know yet.  I also don’t quite know what to make of the references to old show tunes and torch songs, like the music on the radio at Watanabe’s apartment, or his quotation of “Que Sera, Sera” or the title track that plays over the ending credits.  It is perhaps ironic contrast to the confused, complex relationships in the film… or maybe an expression of their inner desires.  It is perhaps just a bit of meaningless cleverness, but if so, it doesn’t come off that way.

I may need to let the movie sit with me a while longer… maybe even have a second viewing somewhere down the road.  For the moment, while I don’t rank it among Kiarostami’s best works, it is interesting enough to mull over for a while.  Rating: Good (75)


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