Kiarostami’s Simplicity

If it’s possible to describe Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami’s style of shooting in one word, then careful comes to mind.  There’s elegance in his ability to capture the wholeness of moments, and because he resists quick cuts in favour of long drawn out and exquisitely framed shots, we’re presented with something that at first we may not know how to approach.  It’s this element of gradual action that hallmarks Kiarostami’s latest film Like Someone In Love, in which we follow the young and beautiful Akiko as she moonlights as a prostitute, unbeknownst to her fiancé.

The first scene sets the tone for the rest of the film.  We hear Akiko’s voice off-screen as she attempts (to the point of absurdity) to dissuade the suspicions of her boyfriend.  The camera angles that Kiarostami uses are often those of one or another character’s in the scene, and this creates a unique atmosphere – on one hand it imbues a peculiar intimacy; we’re staring out through the eyes of the protagonist, and seeing everything she sees.  On the other, it feels so unlike what we’re used to.  For several minutes all we’re watching is a stationary background of patrons eating and socializing at a bar overtop Akiko’s phone-call.

Conventional Western filmmaking often takes the form of “necessary action”.  That is, we are bombarded by short scene-by-scene punctuations that move us swiftly through the plot.  The pace of Like Someone In Love defies this custom, almost to the extreme – in one scene we actually watch one of the main characters fall asleep, in real time, behind the wheel of his car.  Someone accustomed to the sound-byte imagery of a Michael Bay flick might find themselves yawning over dialogue that is almost frustrating in its organic realness. 

But Michael Bay followers would be missing the point entirely.  Like Someone In Love has more in common with poetry than it does with even conventional story-telling.  There is nothing overly complex about the plot, but it’s that same simplicity that allows Kiarostami’ to sink us so deftly into it.  Because the movie takes place in a period of less than 24 hours, combined with lingering shots that seem to mirror the uncertainty and hesitance of the characters, there is considerable emphasis placed on what is not said, or what happens just off-screen.  The white spaces between the lines, the pauses, and the subdued dialogue contribute just as much to the story than what is actually shown.

And yet, this lens that hovers over every action and detail – from the nervous wringing of hands on a steering wheel to the awkward glances – also creates a distance between the characters and the viewers.  We aren’t “let in”, overtly.  Akiko (played by TV star Rin Takanashi) remains a confusing dualism:  when we see her outside of her role as an escort (interacting with her boyfriend and pimp, for example) she is quiet, passive, and restrained.  The restraint feels like a defense mechanism:  she can’t allow herself to indulge the emotions that bubble to the surface.  But when she has to “put on airs” for her client, an aged widower and professor, she suddenly becomes animated, direct, and surprisingly honest.  The contrast between these two personalities is almost heartbreaking.

If you’re not careful, you’ll miss it.  And this is what I mean by saying that Kiarostami’s method of filmmaking has a carefulness embedded in it.  If you’re looking for a quick laugh, a quick thrill, then you’ll bounce right off the surface of Like Someone In Love.  Poetry isn’t meant to be rushed.

Jordan Mounteer

Jordan Mounteer