Just watched Abbas Kiarostami’s latest film, “Like Someone in Love” and I can’t stop thinking about it. My take:
Most of what happens in this film is implicit and off screen. The director chooses to focus on a few brief encounters and a newly forged, fragile relationship between a call girl and an older Sociology professor who lives 1 hour outside of the city. Though seemingly simple, plot-wise, the brilliance and intricacies come to life in our minds long after the film ends.
The audience isn’t provided with a substantial backstory- this is a sliver of time we’re exposed to, and we reckon that Akiko is a student who moved to Tokyo and struggled with finances, so she began moonlighting as a call girl after her classes and exams after finding success due to her exceptional, though generic, beauty. She mentions that she often reminds people of others, perhaps her universal familiarity is her allure, allowing her clients to project whatever they want her to be, leaving the real Akiko unfamiliar to everyone including herself- clearly a stranger even to her suspicious (for good reason) and controlling fiancé who we can assume gives the emotionally damaged Akiko some sense of stability in a twisted form of consuming love that she can accept, perhaps counterbalancing the emotionally distant relationships she has with her clients. It’s unclear if the relationship was ever good, or if Akiko’s compartmentalization and double-life has created the toxic dynamic that exists in the time we’re privy to. Her isolation is symbolized by the film’s focus on transit- most of the key moments in the film happen while Akiko is in a car and we see the city reflecting off the glass.
Akiko’s pimp sends her to a client old enough to be her grandfather. Formerly a student of this aging Sociology professor, her pimp holds him in high esteem and doesn’t want to disappoint him, hence sending Akiko who initially refuses, but acquiesces. As she rides in the Taxi on her way over, she listens to the countless voicemails from her worried grandma who came to visit her that weekend, calls which she never picked up nor returns. The most recent voicemail indicates her grandma is waiting for her by a statue, which Akiko insists on circling twice while she cries in acknowledgement of her neglect and avoidance. Separated by glass, metal, and movement, her grandma will never know Akiko’s real sentiments, or understand her lack of regard. This also sets the stage for an exploration of the “distance” in emotional maturity and experiences between the old and young, further explored with Akiko, Akiko’s boyfriend, and the professor later in the film.
It’s apparent that Akiko seems comfortable immediately with the professor, and undresses soon after she arrives and passes out in his bed. Based on her quiet and sensitive nature and her comments about her outgoing friend who can chat up just about anyone, it’s inferred that she doesn’t often feel this kind of connection. He’s patient with her despite her refusal to eat dinner with him which he prepared for her, and silently watches over her as she sleeps. The next morning he takes her to school while she continues to sleep. In our sleep we are the most vulnerable, so these scenes show us the immediate comfort the two feel in each others’ presence. We can also gather that she’s exhausted from all her pretenses.
While he waits for her, he meets Akiko’s fiancé who is also waiting. Through masterful and cryptic dialogue, the fiancé assumes the professor is Akiko’s grandfather. We see what we want to see, seems to be the message the director is insisting on despite very obvious clues that not all is what it seems (ex. Akiko’s fiancé has an advertisement with Akiko’s photo on it advertising her services- her generic looks work to her favor in this case, making the accusation dismissable, Akiko never mentioned her grandfather visiting, only her grandmother, and her grandfather is a fisherman, not a professor). The ambiguity of their relationship echoes that of Abbas’ film ‘Certified Copy’, where we’re not sure what’s real, what’s pretend, what’s a dream, and who’s who. The transient nature of the relationship between the two main characters (one beautifully played by Juliette Binoche) morphs through dialogue and moods, with very little triggered by action.
The abrupt ending of “Like Someone in Love” literally “shatters” a lot of what we’ve come to understand in this poetic, soft film. Perhaps making up for the slow beginning and shocking us to our senses, the ending calls into question much more that happens non diegetically- how did the fiancé find out within the few hours he was denying the truth and now? Is the Professor alright, did he faint out of fear or did he get hit in the head? With so little actually explained in the film, our minds run wild with answers filling in the complex backstories that we personalize. Maybe we too are treating the film how Akiko’s clients treat her, making the film a reflection of our own desires and thoughts with barely any concrete understanding of the actual substance (in our defense, we aren’t allowed to understand it).
All we really grasp is that the Professor sees Akiko as familiar because she resembles his wife and granddaughter, and though nothing sexual happens (at least on screen) the nature of their relationship from the outset is of sexual expectations. Perhaps this film is really discussing the innocence of what has darker pretenses on the exterior, while also evaluating the darkness that exists within an innocent exterior (Akiko). The “Like” in the film’s name implies its exploration of mimicry, falsity, and shallowness of emotion. It’s not someone in love for a reason, it’s someone who pretends and perhaps wants desperately to be but doesn’t know how. A symptom of a big city- is the film an analysis of the loneliness and isolation of Tokyo, overall? Any “genuine” closeness occurs far (in this case, 1 hour) outside of the city.
*Maybe all of our relationships have little to do with who each of us are, but who each of us reminds us of* This film definitely had surrealistic inspirations, namely “Belle de Jour” by Luis Bunuel.