Cannes 2012 | Like Someone in Love; Amour
Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy blindsided me when I saw it here in 2010. I'd all but given up on Iran's preeminent filmmaker, who had followed his formidable The Wind Will Carry Us (1999) with a decade of minimalism. Yet here was a full-blooded, romantic masterpiece that seemed destined to retain its wonders even on repeat viewings. The film was so fresh, and the narrative sleight-of-hand at its center so subtle, that I exited the theater convinced I'd missed crucial plot information. What exactly was the relationship between these two characters? How long had they known each other? For the first time in my life that I can recall, I saw a movie again without even stopping for a break, walking straight from one auditorium into another.
Now, two years later, I've done almost the same thing with Kiarostami's Like Someone in Love—a companion piece to Copy, at least thematically, that finds the director working in Japan for the first time.
Broadly speaking, Like Someone in Love chronicles one day in the lives of Akiko (Rin Takanashi), a young woman who works as an escort around Tokyo, and Takashi (Tadashi Okuno), an older sociology professor whom she visits for the evening. Kiarostami creates pointed contrasts between young and old, night and day, the neon sleekness of the early scenes and the more prosaic-seeming conversations of the movie's second half. (The latter sequences find Kiarostami relying a tad too much on his drab trademark device—actors conversing in a car. As good as the film is, it's not as crystalline as Copy.)
Viewers eager to experience the movie fresh might want to cut out here. While Like Someone in Love differs from Copy in structure and agenda, it's similarly interested in the power of perception.
In the earlier film, a café proprietress makes an assumption about Juliette Binoche and William Shimell's characters, and the mistake colors every subsequent scene. That sort of gaffe occurs again and again in Like Someone in Love. An old man is taken for a grandfather, his neighbor perceives a young woman as his granddaughter, and an escort is treated as something like a genuine paramour. ("Not a day goes by without me being told that I look like someone," Akiko quips at one point.) Other confusions abound: Akiko's boyfriend (Ryo Kase) is asked to trust her false description of her whereabouts; Takashi jumps to conclusions about Akiko's favorite foods; Darwin's work is mixed up with Durkheim's. Katsumi Yanagijima's dazzling cinematography, emphasizing reflections and frames within frames, reinforces the movie's interest in the limits of vantage point. Even the stunning opening shot—of a Tokyo bar—gives a false impression: We hear a woman talking on her cell phone, but Kiarostami keeps her out of the frame, leaving viewers struggling to get their bearings from the get-go.
To an even greater degree than Copy, this movie about misinterpretation insists on keeping its audience guessing, maintaining an ambiguity about its intentions that lingers well after the final shot. As in the previous film, there's an element of homage; the generational contrast seems a pointed nod to Japanese masters like Ozu and Naruse. But Like Someone in Love has no analogue. Kiarostami's sensibility is certifiably his own.
Festival programmers cannily paired Like Someone in Love with Michael Haneke's rapturously received Amour, which follows a husband (Jean-Louis Trintignant, a front-runner for the fest's Best Actor award) as he cares for his deteriorating wife (Emmanuelle Riva). Critics have focused on how the film adds a new dimension of compassion to this famously severe director's work (he won the Palme d'Or for The White Ribbon in 2009), but it's very much a movie by Haneke the disciplinarian: His camera remains rigidly in place, often in long takes, observing as Trintignant's character attends to his immobile wife—helping her to sip water, for instance. Most human beings witness the degrading effects of dying at one point or another, but that experience is, shockingly, almost never depicted onscreen. Haneke insists that you watch what it means to care for an ailing loved one—and perhaps even regard it as something like love.