Grand-Father Knows Best?
Titled from an Ella Fitzgerald on the soundtrack, featured at last year’s Cannes, Toronto and New York festivals, Like Someone in Love opens theatrically alongside Lincoln Center’s “A Close-Up of Abbas Kiarostami” complete retrospective of the film and digital video director-writer experimenter and cinematographer-producer-editor praised by Goddard, Scorsese and other peers.
Kiarostami did not even shoot outside home Iran until Tuscany-set 2012 Certified Copy, whereas now he moves farther afield, to Japan, again working with actors and crew in a language he does not speak. Close-Up had ushered him into the fecund ‘90s and Ten pretty much began the ‘00s, both sharing his trademarks with CC and LSiL.
That is, characters are likely to be embodied by non-professional or non-famous actors, who “feel more comfortable in front of a digital camera,” in stories that are essentially one- or two-person dramas; speakers are often off-camera, their words registered against white noise of bells, passersby and most notably traffic; a high percentage of running time occurs in the front seats of automobiles, the auteur’s “best friend, my office, my home, my location.” All ninety-one minutes of terrific Ten, in fact, take place entirely in the car of a divorced-and-remarried working mother (Mania Akbari) who, between yelling back to other Tehran drivers’ complaints, listens to passengers including rebellious son Amin (Amin Maher), her soon-to-be jilted sister, an old woman going to a mausoleum to pray, and a contented streetwalker who sees herself as the more honest of the two.
His characters’ pasts are shadowy, not filled in or ambiguous, while “reality” and “fiction”/”make-believe” may be so contrived side-by-side that they become indistinguishable the one from the other, as personalities slip into and out of rôles that, accepted by others, become “real.”
Two years in Tokyo, Akiko (Rin Takanashi, a newcomer at twenty) moonlights as a call girl for her living expenses and university fees. She hides this nighttime activity by not answering cellphone calls from Noriaki (Ryo Kase), an edgy boyfriend whom she might prefer not to have at all but who is intent on marriage so as to be sure of her while he runs his auto repair shop.
She also disregards calls from her visiting grandmother (Kaneko Kubota) and, drowsy from having studied all night for an exam the following morning, at first refuses Rizzo Bar owner Hiroshi’s (Denden) patient insistence that she spend the night with a man an hour’s taxi drive away.
That client is respected Takashi Watanabe (another film novice, eighty-one-year-old stage actor Tadashi Okuno), a retired university professor whose former students are everywhere and include Hiroshi, and who is now an academic writer and in demand as a translator. His wife’s death years ago having precipitated some unclarified catastrophe, and a daughter absent from his life, the scholarly man with the walrus moustache is involved in his work and in any case more concerned with talk, champagne and take-out dinner for Akiko and himself than with thoughts or acts of sex.
She gets naked and into bed, makes mirror-imaged invitations to join her and, exhausted, falls sound asleep. Next morning, he drives her to school for the botched examination, where the boyfriend waits to berate her and, taking the elderly man for her grandfather, tries to ingratiate himself with her family. Takashi in turn neither affirms nor clearly denies but advises a philosophical fatalism to the young people, even warbling a snatch of The Man Who Knew Too Much “Que Sera, Sera.”
The volubility of a neighbor lady (Mihoko Suzuki) who volunteers information so insufficient that it intrigues, is awkward; and Noriaki’s ignorance is not plausible. Feeling that he has been played for a fool, the volatile young man reacts, though full results are left dangling. The situation itself rather than a concrete outcome is the point, just as the characters’ actions outweigh any undisclosed motivations.
Kiarostami’s output is arresting, unsettling and nonjudgmental in refusing to provide clear end “answers.” If LSiL is less than his most outstanding work, that is because there is no mystery in it and the two, or three, principals act as they do with no suggestion of other, richer life outside the frame.
(Released by IFC; not rated by MPAA.)