If you asked most people about their first associations with Abbas Kiarostami, the Iranian filmmaker responsible for his own sort of new wave in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, the answers received would likely be inconsistent. If you asked someone in the 70s, the words ‘realism’ and ‘minimalism’ would dominate the conversation. In the 80s, a few more descriptive, complimentary adjectives would enter in. In the 90s he would be described as a game-changer. Today that reputation largely remains, with the added concern, due to the addition of his latest film, Like Someone in Love, to the festival circuit, that he is in danger of repeating himself.
Or perhaps he has already. Those aware of Kiarostami’s body of work know precisely what to expect: a slow, occasionally boring and somewhat reflexive plot, followed up at the last minute with a jaw-dropping ending, and though what exactly makes it jaw-dropping is likely to change from film to film, the fact of a dropped jaw is not. Like Someone in Love follows up on this expectation with a very simple, triangular plot. Character A is a prostitute. Character A has a fiance, B. Fiance B doesn’t know A is a prostitute. A’s “john” for the night, when we meet her, is an old man respected in the community, who acts in a fatherly capacity to A while she gets her shit together (sort of), only to have them both fall in the crossfire of an incensed fiance B after he finds out about the deception. All this in the course of a day and night, mind you. In typical Kiarostami fashion, however, such a dull plot cannot be allowed to play out dully to the bitter end. Instead it takes a radical chance at the last possible minute, invalidating the entire plot of the film for the sake of an interesting ending.
That said, Kiarostami is notoriously great at endings. His endings are the whole show, and while it hasn’t been a problem in less conventionally told films, Like Someone in Love suffers from it. The beauty of a Kiarostami ending is that it fucks with our expectations of an ending being there to do nothing to tie up loose ends. It’s refreshing, at first, to find a filmmaker that uses endings to throw all the information we’ve gotten from an already inquisitive film further into question. But, as with even the best stylistic innovations, repetition without real variation makes it old news, a kind of formula. Which is not to say that Like Someone in Love is nothing more than the last few seconds than define it. It’s a lovely, languid film in characteristic style–only its loveliness has a very certain, and very sudden, expiration date.
The 50th Annual New York Film Festival runs from September 28th to October 14th at the Film Society of Lincoln Center.