Will Noah reviews Abbas Kiarostami’s latest film, set in Japan.

Like Someone In Love screens at Alice Tully Hall Thursday October 4th at 6pm and at the Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center Monday October 8th at 6:15pm.

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Even by arthouse standards, Abbas Kiarostami’s Like Someone In Love challenges traditional modes and habits of filmgoing. Kiarostami’s previous film, the career-renewing masterpiece Certified Copy, forced its audience to adopt contradictory methods of reading. By breaking the rules of realism, Copy nudged the viewer towards a richer emotional understanding of its characters. Like Someone in Love, on the other hand, offers a straightforward, even banal, series of events that never explicitly depart into the realm of the metaphysical. Instead, Kiarsotami focuses his attention on the frame, dynamising the film’s surface in order to peer past the barriers that divide its characters. After a single viewing, it’s hard to say exactly what the movie’s observations add up to, but their emotional resonance remains difficult to shake.

The film begins in a crowded bar. The frame is static, and allows for less breathing room than most filmmakers would include. A voice speaks, but cannot be identified until Kiarostami cuts to a reverse angle, introducing a young woman named Akiko (Rin Takanashi) talking on the phone with her fiancé, Noriaki (Ryo Kase). Akiko works as an escort while studying sociology, but her jealous fiancé doesn’t know about this double life. Her pimp wants her to see a client that night, but she protests that her grandmother is in town. Eventually he persuades her to work. Much of this information is communicated in just two setups; Kiarostami milks a simple shot/reverse shot pattern for more vitality than most filmmakers can accomplish in an entire montage. The escort is driven in a cab to the apartment of the client, an elderly professor named Takashi (Tadashi Okuno). The two spend an apparently platonic night together before he drives her to class the next morning and meets Noriaki. These three characters’ lives are woven together over a dramatic timespan of less than 24 hours, with little dramatic incident. Falsehoods abound: the professor poses as the escort’s grandfather; a painting is falsely identified as a portrait of Akiko while a real photograph of her is dismissed as a lookalike. Kiarostami’s direction divides his characters in space using reflective surfaces and frames within frames. Cars emerge as a structural principle, often seeming to dictate the motions of the characters rather than the other way around. A sudden jolt of action ends the film on a destabilizing note.

I don’t think I’ll be able to offer any kind of overarching interpretation of Like Someone In Love until I see it at least once more. On a scene-by-scene basis it’s one of the most captivating films of the year. Kiarostami’s use of the camera puts most other filmmakers to shame, engaging properties of light and space that are rarely harnessed for expressive means. One early scene in particular, in which Akiko gazes out of a cab window at the grandmother whose calls she hasn’t returned, serves as a stunning example of Kiarostami’s finely tuned emotional sensibility. This scene exemplifies the paradoxical closeness and distance between the film’s characters, a tension that holds Kiarostami’s vision together even at its most diffuse and obscure. The film’s title says it all: the intimacy of “Love” held at a distance by the artificiality of “Like.” I don’t know if Like Someone In Love ranks among Kiarostami’s best films (the competition is thick), but its mystery and warmth mark it as the rewarding and assured late-career work of a master.