By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist May 21, 2012 at 9:00AM
After heading to Italy for his last effort "Certified Copy," famed Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami had a very simple reason for making Japan the next stop on his international production jaunt. "...if I make a film in Japan, I won't be accused of making a film for the West. Making a film in Japan is like making a film in Iran. Whether actors speak Japanese or Persian, there are still subtitles." Unless he makes "Men In Black 4," it's hard to fathom that Kiarostami would ever be thought of as submitting to the conventions of American filmmaking. And no matter what language its in, "Like Someone In Love" is pure Kiarostami, but whether or not it succeeds is up for debate.
Another riff on love, relationships and identity, "Like Someone In Love" for half the picture feels like a reheated "Certified Copy" before it truly spins a bit out of control. Employing his usual signature long static takes and (very) leisurely pacing, the story centers on Akiko (Rin Takanashi), an escort who heads out on a job with the elderly writer, translator and retired professor Takashi (Tadashi Okuno). And from the start of their encounter, it's clear they are both looking for very different things. Akiko kindly engages Takashi in a lengthy conversation about a painting he has before she maneuvers into his bedroom, undresses and tries to get him into bed. But having prepared a dinner and drinks for the pair, Takashi seems put off by this turn of the events, and at least early on, Kiarostami's film shares some common ground with Steven Soderbergh's "The Girlfriend Experience." Takashi is more interested in a companion it seems, than sex. Anyway, Akiko winds up spending the night and the next day the pair continue their date, such as it is.
It's in this second half of the film where Kiarostami begins to lose a grip on his until carefully controlled film. Takashi plays chauffeur to Akiko, driving her to school and as result, crosses paths with her fiance Noriaki (Ryo Kase), who has been kept in the dark about her job, fueling a slowly growing rage. He mistakes Takashi for her grandfather, but he plays along, and the two discuss (rather ironically) how to successfully navigate a relationship with a woman, while both of them are, in a sense, involved in constructed or dishonest dealings with Akiko.
Kiarostami spends the picture toying with idea of image and identity, but unfortunately, "Like Someone In Love" lacks the intellectual depth and forward momentum of "Certified Copy." The picture is often gorgeous to look at, but there are only so many scenes of characters driving around in a car we can take. An extended sequence of Akiko in the back of a cab listening to her voicemail messages is outstanding, but two or three more driving scenes later, and the technique becomes tired. And reflecting how many in the audience felt, we also get an extended look at Takashi falling asleep behind the wheel at a stop light. But the biggest shortcoming of the film is that none of the performers are as engaging as Juliette Binoche or William Shimell. That pair were able add an emotional depth to the knotty dialogue that drew viewers in. Here, the actors more often than not seem as if they're reading from a textbook, never moving past Kiarostami's cerebral, soulless dialogue to take it to another level.
Originally working under the title "The End," Kiarostami certainly concludes the picture with a literal bang. What it all means will be left to the viewer to sort out, but it's clear Kiarostami is making some kind of a statement about how personalities can evolve as a result of perception of identity and image. Or something. We're not quite sure and the journey to get there and the work required to unravel the thematic mystery of the film doesn't seem to be worth the effort. There is a fine line between meeting an audience halfway and witholding enough without falling into self-indulgence, but Kiarostami can't make that balance here. Enigmatic and dull to a maddening degree, "Like Someone In Love" finds Kiarostami spinning his wheels. [C-]