I must admit I don't know how to write about, or make sense of, Abbas Kiarostami's new fiction film shot in Japan, Like Someone in Love. It is far and away the most bizarre and unexpected film in Cannes; luckily having read nothing about it before the screening, it has become the first film here and indeed for quite some time that, as I watched it proceed, I never knew moment to moment where it would go. It is a rare experience indeed to have cinema blindside you, hold you in vague anticipation, be ambushed and mis (or re-) directed.
Beginning with one of the most fascinating and quietly disconcerting of opening shots—a view of a loud, crowded bar with a voice coming from the image that we cannot find the source of, speaking midway through a story we don't know about people we don't see, the frame at an angle so subtly oblique that the very geometry of the image seems a puzzling confusion of lines—the film quickly moves to the more simply composed images common to the director, but never gives up this introductory sense of mystery, a kind of muffled but acute vagueness.
It is a tone where the surprising narrative seems not so much spontaneously developed as slowly drawn out, enigmatically evoked, as if slowly feeling its way forward, blindly. (What I called the “gluey” sense in Certified Copy's cinematic unity of time and space continues here in a more elliptical form, the movement and revelations of the film proceeding at a slow, viscous drip.) Like Someone in Love begins with the movement of a young girl, whose background and profession are at once completely introduced and yet seem entirely tenuous and suspect, sent from the bar as an escort to the apartment of an old man. Brought in between them is the girl's fiercely jealous and questioning young boyfriend, and we have what seems a typical and indeed melodramatic scenario.
Yet how the film gets from place to place, the strangeness, silences and unanswered questions between old man and young girl—especially notable in the face of the boyfriend's verbose rants—express a profound gap in the film, a large, miasmic emptiness where a normal movie would be found filling in the inner psychology and exterior motivations of the two, as well as expanding the world around them. Instead, like the many driving scenes in the film, everyone seems to be circulating in a bubble or cocoon, cut off from the world, a sense of extracted artifice very much like that of Certified Copy. Brief suggestions of resemblances of the girl to other people—a famous 1900 Japanese painting, the old man's wife and daughter, a sleazy postcard found at a train station—suggest a blankness of identity for her that people are projecting desires and narratives on, and yet the few other characters in the film each contain their own odd, insular state of being withholding, tentative about presenting themselves. A long driving scene at night in Tokyo has the girl in the backseat of a cab listening to message after phone message left by her visiting grandmother, who she is avoiding to instead go to the old man, and we watch her face as she gives indistinct reactions to this sequence of emotional appeals, being an inactive body and already distant presence listening to the outside world from afar.
By the end, I was almost reminded of The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, how at that film's end the main character, despite motivating the cacophony of activity around him, has faded away as a human and psychological presence, becoming a mere physical form moved here and there. The old man and young girl in the Kiarostami always seem on the verge of being mobile automatons, moved by forces we don't see or understand, motivated inside by a cryptic presence. After the film's opening third—the film seems divided into sections centering on, in order, the girl, old man, and boyfriend—the girl nearly fades away from the story as a psychological-melodramatic being and subtly changes into a form shuttling between spaces and people. How to put it all together? I will have to revisit after the festival...