The first words in Abbas Kiarostami’s sinuous and beguiling new drama are “I’m not lying to you,” and they’re a lie. There’ll be more equivocation and feints, more quietly disorienting shifts as the Tokyo-set story’s events play out among an unlikely — and well-cast — triangle.
A filmmaker long fascinated with matters of truth, fiction and identity, Kiarostami embarks on a typically indirect but never rambling path in “Like Someone in Love,” crafting an elegant mystery that resonates beyond its final, jolting moment.
The second feature the director has made outside his native Iran, it doesn’t match the emotional intensity of the Tuscany-set “Certified Copy,” but its jazz-fueled take on everyday masquerades hits notes that ring true.
Kiarostami’s outsider’s perspective heightens the delirious dissonance between the expected and the outlandish, much as the butterscotch warmth of Ella Fitzgerald’s voice, on the title song, sets off the movie’s cool precision.
The film opens as a bit of a puzzle: The fixed camera beholds a dark nightclub, where it isn’t at first clear who’s speaking. The person who’s insisting (untruthfully) that she’s telling the truth turns out to be Akiko (Rin Takanashi), a college student who’s moonlighting as a call girl and trying to mollify her suspicious boyfriend over the phone.
Akiko’s deception is closing in on her from another angle as well: the visiting grandmother she’s been avoiding all day. As she begins the long cab ride to that night’s client, she listens tearfully to the older woman’s messages, crumpling with regret as worry and then reproach creep into her grandmother’s upbeat words.
From the back seat of the taxi she breaks her distressed silence to ask the driver to circle the station where the woman might still be waiting. It’s an extraordinary scene, as meticulously orchestrated as anything Kiarostami has done, with cinematographer Katsumi Yanagijima weaving layer upon layer of nighttime reflections through the car windows.
The next time Akiko finds herself in the back seat of a car, the driver is a retired professor, Takashi (Tadashi Okuno). Beside him sits her boyfriend, Noriaki (Ryo Kase), who has convinced himself, more or less, that he’s talking to Akiko’s grandfather — and not the man who paid for her time the previous night. The conversation between the elderly man of letters and the anxious auto mechanic is as thrillingly forthright as it is duplicitous.
From moment to moment the low-key intrigue threatens to slip into Hitchcock territory; when it does, it’s not in the form of high-wire suspense but in a burst of understated playfulness. It’s strangely affecting to watch Akiko and her new friend navigating the situation, somewhat amazed at their own sleight of hand and the depths it reveals.
‘Like Someone in Love’
No MPAA rating; in Japanese with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes
Playing: At Laemmle’s Royal, West Los Angeles
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