Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, a previous winner of the Palme d'Or for Taste of Cherry (1997), returned to Cannes this year with Like Someone In Love. Though many have been captivated by his latest work, the reception was certainly mixed. After time to reflect on its unconventional storytelling style and unravel its subtleties, it has become a film that I greatly admire and appreciate. Set in Tokyo, we are immediately immersed into a bustling restaurant/bar. We are privileged to one side of a phone conversation between a young woman named Akiko (Rin Takanashi) and presumably her boyfriend. They are arguing, and it becomes clear that he is jealous and doesn't trust her. She presumably lies to him, claiming she is out with some friends. Akiko has a secret and discovering who she was with and why results in a case of mistaken identity and a series of fascinating exchanges of escalating tension.

Some of their character traits are never made explicitly obvious, but there are clues found throughout that teach us about their pasts and help us understand who they are.

The further the film evolved, the more immersed I became. It came to be that I had no idea what to expect next, and this is what made it so rewarding to reflect on. The construction of every sequence has been carefully considered and every movement by the actors (who are all superb) has purpose. There is strict attention given to the smallest details and everything you see has the potential to have greater significance in the future. An act as simple as an old man driving or shuffling around his apartment becomes surprisingly engrossing. Each of the characters we meet are fascinating, even if they don't appear to be initially.

The ending is abrupt and sure to be provocative. A Japanese speaker, for example, may have reacted differently to a viewer who cannot speak the language. I am in this latter category and the climax resulted in my heart being in my mouth and I walked away rattled.

Kiarostami loves toying with his audience's expectations (coupling his ideas on a thematic and a narrative level). In both of the aforementioned films his characters are often interacting in cars while one of them drives around. If there are two or more they are often framed in a front-on capture, usually through the windscreen, and these are interspersed with lengthy close-ups. It is a really interesting technique. All of the films make clever use of the natural light and involve lengthy static takes. The sound work is also extraordinary incorporating the dialogue with the natural sounds of the locations.

Kiarostami is an acute observer of human interaction and his characters all feel like regular people we may bump into on a day-to-day basis. The drama never feels forced but he provides fascinating insight into the way that information is withheld and openly disclosed, often with no knowledge of who the other person is.

Kiarostami’s beautiful, subtle and intelligently conceived Japanese drama is a simmering capture of an unlikely series of encounters and the complexities of human compassion and interaction. It is extraordinary how much tension is built through the dialogue, and though it will prove to be a challenging and frustrating film for some, it offers unconventional rewards. 

[rating=4]

Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22

Andy Buckle is a passionate Sydney-based film enthusiast and reviewer who has built a respected online voice at his personal blog, The Film Emporium. Andy will contribute reviews, features and be our resident film festival, and awards expert.