Monday, May 19, 2014

She Bears an Uncanny Resemblance to Herself: Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy and Like Someone in Love

Among other things, Iranian cinema is remarkable for the number of meta-films that get made.  There is Jafar Panahi’s The Mirror, which depicts a child actor’s refusal to cooperate and incorporates it into the narrative; Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s A Moment of Innocence and Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-up, which are both about filming the participants of real events as they re-enact them; and Kiarostami’s (again) A Taste of Cherry, with its famous on-screen revelation of the presence of the filmmakers.  So the Iranians are keen to let us know that there films are not depictions of reality, but are quite consciously performances. 

Another way that filmmakers like Makhmalbaf and Kiarostami emphasize this point is through the extensive use of non-professional actors (well, Kiarostami at least is using non-professional actors; I’m not sure what the deal is with Makhmalbaf; sometimes I suspect that he’s just using actors who aren’t particularly good at what they do).  These actors conduct themselves in a Brechtian manner, in that it is more like they’re reciting their lines than acting them out.

But in recent years, Kiarostami has for the first time started making use of professional actors.  He and Makhmalbaf have both found themselves exiled from their native Iran following the abortive 2009 protests.  Although I don’t know that either of them have officially sought asylum in France, where they now reside, Makhmalbaf declared himself to be failed presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s overseas representative, so he certainly can’t go back; and Kiarostami has advocated on behalf of Jafar Panahi, who has been persecuted by the Iranian government along with other filmmakers.  Kiarostami certainly could not make films in Iran with the liberty that he can overseas, although that was pretty much always the case, and it didn’t stop him from making excellent films like Life and Nothing But, Close-Up, The Wind Will Carry Us, and the politically charged Ten.
Certified Copy (2010).
But, as I was saying, Kiarostami, in making films outside of Iran, has started to use professional actors, which is a marked change for him (I should note that he had made some films outside of Iran prior to 2009, but one, ABC Africa, was a documentary, and the other, Five Dedicated to Ozu, was an avant-garde piece with no actors).  His first international feature was the masterful 2010 film Certified Copy, starring Juliette Binoche (who’s about as professional as they come) and William Shimell, a British opera singer who is most certainly not a professional actor, so it can be said of Certified Copy that Kiarostami blends professional and non-professional acting together quite seamlessly.  One does not come away from the movie with the impression that Shimell has not acted before.  In the film, Binoche is an antiques dealer and Shimell a writer who go on a drive together through Tuscany.  They have apparently never met before, but as their journey progresses, they pretend to be married, until they carry the performance so far that it becomes increasingly unclear what the true nature of their relationship is.  It is a deeply subtle and mysterious film.
Which brings us to Kiarostami’s latest outing, Like Someone in Love (2012).  Set in Japan and cast with professional actors, it follows a young college student/call-girl named Akiko (Rin Takanashi) and her evolving relationship with an elderly john/professor of sociology name of Takashi (Tadashi Okuno), which leads to potential trouble with her jealous fiancé, Noriaki (Ryo Kase).  This film raises identity issue similar to those encountered in Certified Copy, but this time with diminishing returns.  Akiko is always being told she looks like other people, and a recurring problem is her resemblance to a woman in an ad for sexual services (the joke being that it’s not just a resemblance, but rather that it’s actually her in the ad).  When Takashi meets Noriaki, he has to conceal the true nature of his relationship with Akiko, and so he claims to be her grandfather, or rather, let’s Noriaki assume that he’s her grandfather.  All of this unfolds in leisurely Kiarostami fashion, and while it’s not unpleasant, one doesn’t gain from it the sense of a layered and mysterious profundity that one finds in Certified Copy.  Either Kiarostami has exhausted his theme, or he needs to be prepared to take a dramatic new approach to it.

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