Monday, April 22, 2013

Like Someone in Love (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Like Someone in Love

From the master of understatement in cinema , Abbas Kiarostami, comes "Like Someone in Love" about a young Japanese student involved in prostitution and an old professor who is drawn to her. No, this is not a Zen version of Kubrick's "Lolita" but rather a meditative analysis of two characters brought together by chance.

Akiko (Rin Takanashi) is a self absorbed and reticent ingenue who spends a lot of time on her cell phone and chatters on. She gets coerced into paying an escort visit to a shy and taciturn professor Takashi (Tadashi Okuno) who lives in a cluttered apartment above a small sushi bar. Akiko has as much interest in spending time with Takashi, sexually or otherwise, as she has grooming her electronic cat with compressed air, but there is money in it. Akiko has to travel a considerable distance to make the appointment and in the taxi, her gorgeous, but expressionless face has an aura of the 60s model Nico from Andy Warhol's factory. As she watches the miles pass through the window, she is also a bit like Eric Packer in "Cosmopolis". Her phone is packed with messages from her grandmother who is waiting for her at a train stop, but Akiko does not return her calls. With every passing minute, her grandmother's messages become increasingly disappointed. Akiko asks the driver to circle the stop twice and each time the grandmother is seen waiting alone. Akiko starts to cry but sits immobile in the car. 

When she arrives at her destination, the professor is shy and nervous. The phone endlessly rings over a trivial translation of five lines, only to be interrupted again and again. Takashi wants dinner and conversation, but after bantering about self centeredly, Akiko wants to go to bed, assumedly for sex. The professor refuses; it appears he likes to watch. But we are never sure what transpires if anything.

The next day Takashi drives her to school and unwittingly becomes entangled in talk with Akiko's aggressive boyfriend (Ryo Kase). In what might seem a philosophic experiment or random ruse, the professor implies that he is Akiko's grandfather just visiting. Eager to impress him, the young man extends the hand of friendship with Akiko growing more and more uneasy.

The sparkle of  Kiarostami is that he is invariably opaque. He never spells anything out and prefers to leave much up to the audiences' personal imaginations and thoughts. Existentially  the director does one better than Michael Haneke. Unlike the former, Kiarostami does not rely on Kafkaesque karma, instead whatever tension there is, often unfolds organically without any sense of malice or arbitrary aggression. 

But that is not to say Kiarostami doesn't have his moments.

What brings these two characters together? Loneliness or boredom or merely to pass the time? We don't know. Nor do we know why the professor seems so adverse to sex. Just as in life events are inexplicable, either occurring abruptly or stretching on to boredom or awkwardness, apprehension or panic. The best of Kiarostami is a cinematic koan with multiple behavioral motivations.

Rin Takanashi alone is a conceptual exercise in desire. As her face fills the screen, you can watch it forever and her blank nonchalance that she gives in return is a frustrated blow that we share with the melancholy Professor Takashi who is often afraid to utter a sound in response.

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