One, two, three

By Fernando Ganzo

(leer en castellano / lire en français)

Things usually work out on the third attempt. In this film we have three characters and three acts. First act: a girl lies to her boyfriend in a phone conversation that takes place in a bar by making him think she is elsewhere. We soon discover why: she is in a club for escort girls, although the place and its owner seem to be quite “normal” and, in fact, nice. As it happens often with Kiarostami´s films, the story and the mise en scène are slightly ahead of us: it takes us a few seconds to realize that the girl is talking off camera; it takes us a moment to realize that she is a prostitute. And it takes us time because her character seems to have more than one nature. She is both naïve and charming, dressed in a tempting green suit or in a modest pattern shirt. The next day we see her covering her legs with leggings so she can go to college. Different layers of the same personality: she is a sad prostitute because she doesn´t want to be one (we assume she does it in order to pay for her education). Her client is a very old professor; so old, in fact, that they can´t even have sex. She will end up going to bed on an empty stomach.

Second act: a third character enters the film and everything changes: it´s her boyfriend. By then we fully understand the plot of the film. The old guy drives her to college the next morning, and her boyfriend catches them getting there. After he is had a row with her, he walks into the old man´s car. He takes him for the girl´s grandfather, so at this point we (the audience) know more than the characters do. She also gets into the car, and it is then that we can carefully analyze their reactions to the situation, for we know the intricacies of their relations. Actually, Kiarostami treats the boyfriend very much the way he treated us in the first act, for it will take him the second act to find out the truth (and he will do so off screen). In a way Kiarostami shares his pleasure as a filmmaker with us. In the first act the pleasure is to find out which game is he playing, and then we enjoy watching the game develop in what it is the second act; only to discover that Kiarostami has been having some fun of his own on our account.

We know that this filmmaker likes to have long conversations between two characters in his films. Well, it is three in this one. And since it´s a dialogue, they themselves are like Plato´s theory of the soul having three parts: the head (the old man), the heart (the girl; although it is a broken heart, therefore worthless) and lust (the boyfriend). Also, on a more frivolous approach, we can argue that these characters are like that because, if we think of an old Japanese guy (and Like Someone in Love takes place in Japan), he is always a wise man; if we think of a young Japanese guy, he is a furious karate expert; and if we think of a Japanese girl she´s invariably a damsel in trouble. It´s interesting to see how Kiarostami reverses that idea, for he approaches the old man from the heart (it´s moving to see how he musters his courage when she asks him to save her), the young man from the head (his calm reaction in the second act) and the girl from lust (the groin, that is). I´m sure you can all remember that familiar feeling in Kiarostami´s films, when the characters are talking in a car and they seem to be trapped in it and fighting with the other passenger: we sense that something crucial is going on there. When the girl is on her way to the date with the old man, she listens to the messages in her mobile. There are some from her grandmother, who is in Tokyo for the day and hoping to ser her. It´s night time already, and in her last message she stated that she would wait for her by a statue on the train station. The girl asks the taxi driver to take her there, and they go around the roundabout several times as she watches her grandmother standing by the statue, waiting in vain. The emotion we get from watching the girl´s passionless expression is enhanced by our understanding that she is refusing to let her feelings surface. Her life is divided in compartments, and neither her boyfriend nor her family is allowed to the truth. Since she is living a lie, her personality is erasing itself; hence the broken heart. But from her expression in the car we not only get that, because the sensuousness in her face, the carnality in her lips and the mystery within her eyes (tears almost hinted) hold all the attention of the same Kiarostami that relishes on the pleasures of the flesh and the sheer joy of living each minute to the fullest.

And act three? That´s the part in which the off screen space explodes. The girl phones the old man and asks him for help; he leaves the house abandoning other urgent business so he can go out and look for her. When she is on the entrance to his house (waiting for him to come back from the chemist) so she can heal the bruise that (we understand) her boyfriend has inflicted him, the gossipy neighbour that was just an off screen voice before appears in the frame. She is old, boring and intrusive, but her speech changes the way the young girl looks at the old man. In fact, it feels as if there is always someone there in the film, that every little appearance by a supporting character (the taxi driver or even a voice in a phone leaving a message with no relevance to the plot) is very much alive. And through that we come to the end, when the old man (with his dreads and fears) and the girl are being harassed by her boyfriend, who is outside the house and enraged by anger is relentlessly shouting at them through the door and windows, though we never see him.

The tone and the pace of the film are very interesting. On revising this review, I realize that the plot seems to be a bit frantic; far from it. The film settles in each scene; although, regrettably, some shots don´t seem to be as essential as they all used to do in previous Kiarostami films. But in spite of that, we still receive the full impact of its beauty. I guess some things are still true, like that old saying that a bad film by Raoul Walsh, however bad, has a lot more to offer than a good film by some of the lame filmmakers; because their strengths are half as good as his errors. So time settles then, both the night of the date (when the first act takes place) and in the morning after (when the second and third acts take place). Kiarostami hurries slowly; or maybe it´s just the pace of Orient that drifts into the picture as Kiarostami sniffs it with taste, the way his films have always encourage us to do.

Translated from Spanish by Hugo Obregón

Official Selection
FRANCE, IRAN, JAPAN. 2012. 109’
Director: Abbas Kiarostami.
Script: Abbas Kiarostami.
Cinematography: Katsumi Yanagijima.
Editing: Bahman Kiarostami.
Sound: Mohamadreza Delpak, Nobuyuki Kikuchi.
Casting: Ryo Kase, Denden, Rin Takanashi, Tadashi Okuno.