Abbas Kiarostami, 1940-2016

An emotional retrospective of the iconic Iranian filmmaker.

Movies Features Abbas Kiarostami
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Abbas Kiarostami, 1940-2016

When Abbas Kiarostami died on July 4th at the age of 76, people who in any small way loved the man’s work became, as is often the case in the wake of the passing of any iconic artist, suddenly aware of confronting that love: defending it, extrapolating it, contextualizing it, explaining it. If the Iranian filmmaker’s work has ever touched you, you felt obliged to somehow express what that meant—even if all that meant was re-watching a beloved film or recommending a title to a friend otherwise unfamiliar with the director’s canon. There’s nothing revelatory about this phenomena—we each deal with grief as our souls compel us to.

But there’s a particular honesty required of grieving for Kiarostami. For people who write about film especially, writing about a love for a director after that director is gone can be a befuddling experience, deserving of authority and familiarity in the artist’s work even if none of that previously exists. Sometimes the sad fact is that death breeds respect—and if the director hadn’t died, chances are many people would still be totally ignorant of that director’s (or musician’s or painter’s or writer’s, etc.) output. Sometimes faking a commanding love of an artist can be easy, and sometimes it’s necessary—when Werner Herzog dies (god, seriously, forbid, for it will lay bare the emptiness at the heart of humanity’s eternal push for immortality) we will all ecstatically lie our psyches off. But for Kiarostami, his works demand truth, no matter how (critically and scholarly) weak that truth makes us. In the films of Abbas Kiarostami, truth, in fact, should make us weak, because in that weakness we will be most likely to turn to our fellow human beings to cope with that weakness. Empathy, Kiarostami shows us, is bred in suffering.

Abbas Kiarostami wrote and directed a lot of films. No one on the Paste Movies staff has seen all of them, and many of our Movies writers have seen very little of them—let alone any. Which is fine! But what that means is that in commemorating the brilliance of Abbas Kiarostami we must be very open about the fact that we cannot offer any substantially comprehensive overview. So we won’t.

Instead, we asked our writers to write about whatever they wanted to write about when it came to a specific experience with a specific Kiarostami film, hoping that in such freedom they could offer, in whatever way they pleased, a sample of the complex emotional experience that can be encountered in any one. Call it an emotional retrospective; call it our obituary—whatever you want to call it, we can only ask that if you haven’t, you give Abbas Kiarostami’s films a try. And if you have, then be as honest as possible in sharing your experience with what “trying” even means.


Where is the Friend’s Home? (1987)

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Though not technically his first feature (that’s The Traveler from 1974), Where is the Friend’s Home? was the first to bring Abbas Kiarostami wider international recognition. It remains one of his finest works.

The story sounds almost ridiculously mundane, revolving around young Ahmed’s (Babek Ahmedpour) efforts to return classmate Nematzadeh’s (Ahmed Ahmedpour) notebook after he discovers he accidentally took it home with him. To such a simple story, though, Kiarostami brings a wealth of character observation, social criticism and, above all, the kind of humanistic wisdom that proved to be a hallmark of his cinema.

In its own documentary-like way, Where is the Friend’s Home? offers a child’s-eye perspective on lower-class Iranian life, one in which most of the adults are either too busy to pay much attention to their children, or are too beholden to old-fashioned ways of discipline to offer them the love and affection they demand. Such is Kiarostami’s sense of humanity, however, that he’s even willing to indulge Ahmed’s grandfather (Rafia Difai) a lengthy defense of his harsh view of parenting, taking time to understand where he’s coming from despite how appalling his endorsement of regular beatings might sound to Western ears. And Ahmed eventually finds in an elderly door- and window-maker (Hamdollah Askarpour) he encounters in Nematzadeh’s town something of an unexpected kindred spirit: a rare generous soul who, despite his age, has enough innocence in him to question the recent modernizing trend of replacing his old doors with iron doors when those old doors seem perfectly functional.

Through such sly offhand moments, Where is the Friend’s Home? suggests a broader perspective beyond the relatively trivial concerns of this one young boy. Ultimately, though, it’s empathy—chiefly, the kind that inspires Ahmed to risk the ire of his relatives just to return a notebook so its owner won’t be expelled from school—that suggests a way forward for Iranian society. It’s a worldview that Kiarostami himself would continue to practice, even as his art became more austere and experimental later on. —Kenji Fujishima


Close-Up (1990)

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We meet Hossein Sabzian in jail. He’s a man with squinched shoulders, he’s preternaturally hemmed in, head forever slightly bowed—or at least in the presence of, by this point in 1990, a well-regarded filmmaker. Kiarostami interviews Sabzian himself, patiently giving the man plenty room to speak, the audience watching from behind a wall, from behind glass and bars, but still focused intently on a one-foot-by-one-foot square surface area of Sabzian’s face—wondering what of this, if any, is real. Sabzian is charged with “attempted fraud,” a phrase never explained, left floating vaguely in the stale, bureaucratic prison air. It feels like a riddle, or a thought experiment: Isn’t all fraud only “attempted” if you get caught?

Sabzian confirms that he recognizes the director, but within a minute must be reminded who Kiarostami really is. Sabzian operates emotionally—such is his standard of truth—and he acknowledges that from the outside looking in, such weirdly distant acclimation to typical social cues would appear to be the opposite: fraud. A big, carefully orchestrated lie.

Kiarostami explains to Sabzian that he read about Sabzian’s circumstances in a magazine story. The facts he knows well enough: Hossein Sabzian took on the identity of Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf in order to ingratiate himself with the admiration and friendship of an upper-middle-class Tehran family, the Ahankhahs. Sabzian nods. Kiarostami asks Sabzian if he can do anything for the imprisoned man. “You could make a film about my suffering,” Sabzian replies. Kiarostami tells him he’ll do what he can. Sabzian can’t remember how long he’s been in prison, nor, for that matter, when his trial’s been scheduled and so when he’ll get out. If he does get out. Kiarostami assures him everything will be done to attempt to move the trial date forward. Is that it?

“If you could give a message to Mr. Makhmalbaf,” Sabzian states more than asks, “Tell him The Cyclist is a part of me.” We can’t see Kiarostami’s face, and throughout Close-Up we won’t. “I’ll tell him,” he agrees. It isn’t until an hour has passed in the film that we get any sort of evidence that Kiarostami actually did what he said he would.

Like the incident at the heart of Close-Up—Sabzian’s betraying of the Ahankhahs’ trust—the film itself is something of a well-intentioned fraud. Hoping only to clarify, and never exploit, Kiarostami hybridizes the documentary form, asking the people embroiled in an odd bit of tabloid fodder to play themselves. He doesn’t particularly make Sabzian look any better than this sounds, giving the man the opportunity to speak his own truth from an elevated public altar, and the rest of the players, including the Ahankhah family and the newspaper reporter (Hossain Farazmand) who first wrote the article that grabbed Kiarostami’s interest, don’t fare much better. Sabzian is the milquetoast dreamer, his love for art trampled beneath the utility of people like the Ahankhahs, people who like to watch movies but will forever choose some semblance of normality over the passion of real art. Or truth. Or whatever it is that bewitches Sabzian, driving him to pathetically pretend he’s a famous filmmaker instead of a broken divorcée.

Kiarostami often lingers on Sabzian’s eyes, etched oneirically in a milky half-stare, as if he’s trying to glimpse life from behind a shroud of surreality. Similarly Kiarostami slips in his infamous long take of the spray can rolling down an urban street, kicked by the cab driver (Hooshang Shamaei) who, outside of the Ahankhahs residence, waits to see what unfolds as Sabzian’s lie is resolved with a visit from the police. We want to see what’s happening inside the house, not here with a bored cab driver, and yet we’re briefly, maybe even subconsciously, entranced by the revolutions of the can, because Kiarostami has convinced us that the beauty in such a moment is more fascinating than what’s happening inside the Ahankhah’s private gates. This, it seems, is the beauty of real life—of monotony and physical grace and the existential suffering of ordinary life required of every human being—Sabzian feels impelled to express.

Of course, we eventually do see what happens inside the Ahankhah house, but Kiarostami frames it as an obvious re-enactment, dancing through a variety of implied viewpoints, whereas at the beginning of the film, during which Farazmand relates the basic plot of the film to the cab driver, Kiarostami’s camera bears the hallmark of a documentarian’s tool. By staying outside with the cab driver while Farazmand and two police escorts go inside the house to arrest Sabzian, choosing to film a can clacking down a paved hill rather than follow the drama inside, Kiarostami simultaneously admits he was unable, as a documentary filmmaker, to take the audience’s attention where he should have, and implies that, as an experimental filmmaker toying with the form (a conceit increasingly apparent in the scene’s aftermath), he could have gone inside, but just finds this can so much more interesting.

When we engage with art, Kiarostami asks—truly relate to it—aren’t we making it a part of ourselves? Through the film, Kiarostami allows Sabzian to finally make the art he never thought he could. For Sabzian, this means expressing his suffering as clearly as he endures it, to communicate his pain in a way which he believes will truly transform the audience, to make them, in some small manner, suffer as well. It takes a remarkable amount of trust on Sabzian’s part—on the part of everyone in the film, really: They expose themselves so willingly to Kiarostami’s lens, one cannot help but, watching the mundane drama play out, search for the feelings in oneself to understand how they could so rawly lay their lives bare at the foot of the director. Which is why the film bears witness to a rare depth of authenticity in cinema—and against the film’s only diegetic piece of music, one whose notes bend and swoon to the empathy of the film’s finale, an authenticity that feels beautifully complete. This is as close as I can imagine to a film finding perfection. —Dom Sinacola


Taste of Cherry (1997)

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It’s impossible to consider the works of Abbas Kiarostami and not use a variant of the word “meditation.” Taste of Cherry, the winner of the 1997 Palme D’or at Cannes and an unofficial entry in the “Koker” trilogy (after 1992’s Life, and Nothing More… and 1994’s Through the Olive Trees), is no exception. An existential tone poem of exasperating pace and deliberation, Taste of Cherry takes the long way in almost every conceivable fashion, despite its compact 95-minute running time.

Kiarostami stages a bare minimum of plot in his favorite setting, a moving vehicle, his middle-aged protagonist driving around the dusty roads of the Northern Iranian village of Koker. Mr. Badii (Homayoun Ershadi), a Range Rover-driving stoic, surveys stranger after stranger, inviting a few into his car to discuss a low-effort, high-paying job. He needs help committing suicide. He takes three prospective contractors—a young soldier, a seminarian and an elderly taxidermist—to the site of his planned demise, a pre-dug hole near a tree in the countryside, where he proposes the same of each: Visit the hole the following dawn, call out for him twice, and if he doesn’t respond, the sleeping pills have worked—simply fill in the hole with dirt and be done with him.

The respective conversations are uncomfortable, philosophical, layered, sometimes labored. When Kiarostami isn’t taking viewers on a physical journey of unflinching confrontation, he’s likewise keeping us at a literal distance—behind windows and from wide, curiously flat shots, the isolation of the car contrasted with expansive landscapes of industrial machinery. Mr. Badii’s voice is at times obscured behind glass; we strain to see him through semi-sheer curtains or a ticket booth—we don’t even get a first name. We are denied the slightest of intimacy, determinacy or logic. Badii appears to care enough to involve someone else in his death, but he unequivocally, even coldly, refuses to share his reasons for any of it:

“It wouldn’t help you to know and I can’t talk about it. And you wouldn’t understand. It’s not because you don’t understand but you can’t feel what I feel. You can sympathize, understand, show compassion. But feel my pain? No. You suffer and so do I. I understand you. You comprehend my pain but you can’t feel it.”

I was appreciative, if not a fan the first time around. I was barely out of college, maybe 22, and new to movie criticism at a local New York Times publication in Central Florida. I remember struggling through the film at a weekday morning press screening in an all-but-empty theater, rating it a B-. I didn’t get it. Perhaps it was young age, perhaps it was impatience, perhaps it was a comparatively limited world cinema—and indeed, world—purview. There was obvious craft on screen, admirably so, but it left me indifferent.

Last week, upon the news of Kiarostami’s death, upon headline after headline of unfathomable violence, upon my first viewing in almost 20 years: The chatty entreaties of his last passenger, the taxidermist, to consider the sweetness of mulberries and the fruits of each season; the rote moments of beauty that make Mr. Badii (we think) reconsider; the site of him lying down in his would-be grave, the night, and a rainstorm, closing in; a jarring thunderclap and then, a grainy, behind-the-scenes coda set to Louis Armstrong’s funeral dirge, “St. James Infirmary,” that rousts the viewer from a mesmerizing metaphysical thrum—it left me in tears.

A friend and colleague likened how the film moves—“in strange directions but always focused”—to jazz, which sounds about right. “They’re meant to be waking dreams, where you drift in and out of consciousness,” he mused. Of course, Kiarostami famously said he was fine with viewers falling asleep while watching his films—he preferred such stories:

“Some films have made me doze off in the theater, but the same films have made me stay up at night, wake me up thinking about them in the morning, and keep on thinking about them for weeks. Those are the kinds of films I like.”

There’s something transient and yet immemorial to Taste of Cherry, a confounding, transcendental bridge between extremes and experiences, cultures and politics, passenger and driver, viewer and Kiarostami himself, between our respective unknowns. It’s more than enough to keep us thinking for a lifetime—for his and for my own. —Amanda Schurr


The Wind Will Carry Us (1999)

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On one level, Abbas Kiarostami’s 1999 masterpiece is a mystery tale of sorts: What exactly is Behzad (Behzad Mourani) and his two-man crew doing hanging around in this remote Kurdish village, and why is he so concerned about when one particular elderly woman is going to die? Their purpose is revealed only gradually, through elliptical dialogue exchanges and behavioral details, as is the case with most mystery stories. On another level, it’s an extremely deadpan comedy, with its most amusing recurring gag revolving around the lengths Behzad has to go to reach higher ground just to get cellphone reception—cellphones being exactly the kind of modern technology that seems foreign in this particular out-of-time settlement.

But The Wind Will Carry Us is perhaps best seen as the closest Kiarostami came to making his 8 1/2 without the documentary hybridization of Close-Up. Far from being the engineer the village residents take him for, Behzad is, in fact, a journalist, one so devoted to his craft that he’s apparently willing—as is revealed in one of his phone calls—to blow off a family funeral just for the sake of getting a few perfect shots of a mourning ritual in this village. With his previous experience making documentaries, and with his fiction works often featuring nonfiction elements, one could possibly see Behzad as a reflection of Kiarostami himself.

If so, though, then the film sees Kiarostami in a self-critical mode, willing to make Behzad, and by extension himself, occasionally selfish and insensitive in exploiting these poor folk in pursuit of whatever truth he seeks to capture.

And yet, the overwhelming impression this film leaves is of compassion. Like his 1992 film Life, and Nothing More…, The Wind Will Carry Us adopts a loose structure bound less by narrative concerns than by close observation of landscapes and the human figures within them, with events seemingly caught on the wing, sprouting up suddenly as they might in real life.

Behzad might have his flaws, but he also has a journalist’s interest in acquainting himself with the people and milieu in which he finds himself. It’s this curiosity toward the world around him that was always the lifeblood of Kiarostami’s cinema, and The Wind Will Carry Us remains one of his richest expressions of that deeply humane perspective. —Kenji Fujishima


Ten (2002) and Shirin (2008)

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Demarcated by a sort of old-timey film stock countdown, Ten’s ten conversations lack a salient sense of how much time has passed between segments. Instead, without covering to much chronology, Kiarostami is able to delve into the fears, quirks, travails and typical day of a woman living, working and attempting to carve out some room for her own in modern Tehran. Filmed in long takes by two digital cameras, one mounted to unflinchingly chronicle the passenger side of one woman’s (Mania Akbari) taxi cab, and the other trained only on the woman, Kiarostami never moves his cameras (except for one stark glimpse of the casually seedy side of Tehran nightlife) to take in anything but this woman and her passengers. Reminiscent of Taste of Cherry (and emulated more overtly, even semantically, two years later in his documentary 10 on Ten), Ten is able to convey, within its self-set strictures, a deeply felt sense of full lives playing out in our peripheries, giving intimate voices to those most often overlooked—and then openly wondering if by listening to such voices we can ever really know someone as intimately as they deserve.

“Looking,” in fact, is an obsession of Kiarostami’s—as it should be for any filmmaker—but in training the audience’s eye for so long, so unflinchingly, on the faces of his characters (on women especially), the director invites the audience via an almost-hypnotic suggestion to turn that reflection inward. Our attentiveness is aided, no matter who we are, by Kiarostami’s keen ability throughout his oeuvre to capture the ordinariness of so many strikingly beautiful women, but our attentiveness is held—magnificently sustained, like a gulp of water in the middle of a slow desert trek—by how simply Kiarostami finds drama in positioning us to watch these women when they don’t know they’re being watched. In the driver’s seat of a car, as in Ten, or in the dark of a movie theater, as in 2008’s Shirin, we operate as if we are not being watched, as if we’re hidden away within a gaze-less cocoon. For his female characters, people who struggle every single day under an oppressive gaze, it’s important to Kiarostami to free them of that indelible weight, to give them moments in which they do not have to repress their inner, truer selves because they are not acutely aware they are being watched.

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A turning point for Kiarostami’s late-career experimental bent—presaged by a film like Five Dedicated to Ozu (2003), which probably more closely interrogates the role of a director in manipulating audience engagement, and therefore empathy within art—Shirin isn’t exactly an easy film to watch, what with its formal idea so firmly committed to removing most narrative or cinematic conventions from the experience of sitting through its 90 minutes. We watch the dramatized story of Shirin, an infamous Persian princess who lived around the turn of the century in 600 AD, through the eyes of more than 100 actresses, their faces filmed in close-up by Kiarostami while the dialogue and sound effects of the film (which we never see) guides us through each actress’s emotional journey.

(A documentary about how Kiarostami made Shirin, cheekily titled Taste of Shirin, is available, but only worth watching after viewing its source film, lest the mystique of what Kiarostami’s pulled off lose its seductive impact. But, by all means: After Shirin, find the documentary, which is available on most DVD copies—if you’re curious how the director could draw so many people to his side, convince so many people/actors to trust him so much that they all seem near-dangerously authentic on film, the documentary will likewise convince you that he may be the most effortlessly great director of the past 50 years.)

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It’s probably simplistic to strip Shirin down to a dissection of the male gaze through unbridling the female gaze. That’s here, for sure—though these women apparently do not know they’re being watched, and so therefore have their agency removed, Kiarostami’s lens insists that these women are at their truest in their ignorance of the audience’s gaze, which, rather than remove their agency, removes the audience’s. By looking, the audience can no longer possess, only accept. The male gaze goes limp. Meanwhile, one gorgeous face after another—every face a small wonder to behold, and Kiarostami affords the audience the time to do so—watches a love story (gloriously kitschy, it’s worth noting) and reflects without inhibition their own loves and desires and heartbreak and sense of passion in microgestures, uncontrollable tears and even a dozing-off head bob or two.

But Shirin is so much more powerful than a weapon by which the male gaze is blown apart. It, like Ten and especially Close-Up, is a somnambulant stroll through the cerebral world we explore when we look at art. By “seeing” something does it become a part of us? We cannot “unsee” anything—there is responsibility in looking. And yet, Kiarostami seems to have believed, that does not mean we own what we see. We have no right to these deeply felt, humanistic experiences. Though they are a part of us, they are not ours only. Instead, we must share. That is our responsibility. —Dom Sinacola


Certified Copy (2010)

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If you’ve only ever seen one Abbas Kiarostami film, it’s probably Taste of Cherry. If you’ve seen a whole bunch of his films, you probably saw Taste of Cherry first. I certainly did, way back in my college days, when slick, stylized genre-blending interested me more than high-concept minimalism that demolishes the fourth wall with graceful, impassive ease. Forget Central Station: Give me Ichi the Killer. Give me Oldboy.

Then 2011 happened, and I saw Certified Copy, Kiarostami’s penultimate feature, after Netflix made it available for streaming online. I watched it once. Then I watched it again. Then, I pored over Kiarostami’s IMDB page and started scouring every resource I had available—the local library system especially—to track down copies of his work, including, of course, Taste of Cherry. (Surprise: Roughly half a decade after my cardinal viewing of that film, I wound up loving it the second time around.)

Certified Copy, then, is the first Kiarostami movie that I saw, in the sense that it’s the first Kiarostami film I was able to fully appreciate. In it I discovered a profound admiration for his technique and for the humanity inherent in his cinema. It is opaque, but accessible. It is marked by distance, and yet it is intimate, warm and brimming with empathy.

It’s also playful, not comical or lighthearted, mind you, but tongue-in-cheek. You may surmise as much by the title. Certified Copy: “real fake.” Kiarostami isn’t having a laugh or making a joke, but he is inviting us to keep ourselves open to the experience of his film, at once a tale told in vérité style and a wholly constructed drama made on a personal scale. His two leads, Juliette Binoche and James Shimell, respectively play an innominate antiques dealer and author James Miller, the latter of whom has traveled to Tuscany to talk about his book, titled Certified Copy, which seeks to argue that authenticity is irrelevant to art. Binoche, credited as “elle,” or “she,” and James meet, go for a jaunt together, talk, talk more and continue talking—as they talk, their relationship transforms before our eyes.

Are they really strangers? Are they actually husband and wife, as strangers presume? Is the film smirking at us while we scratch our heads in puzzlement? (If yes, is Kiarostami smirking, too?) The joy of Certified Copy is in its mutability. You can watch it ten times and read half as many interpretations out of it. What never changes from one viewing to the next is its sheer beauty, found in Kiarostami’s visual poetry, and in Binoche and Shimell’s wrenching, heartfelt and unequivocally genuine performances. If you don’t know what to believe, believe in the film’s observations about human relationships. They look simple on the outside. On the inside, they’re as mercurial as Certified Copy itself. —Andy Crump


Like Someone In Love (2011)

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Being a film fan can be an unpredictable experience. Sometimes you see a film and instantly acknowledge its transcendental greatness. Sometimes you are seduced by its visuals or structural gimmickry only to later realize how superficial these elements truly were. Sometimes you fall asleep on your first viewing, loudly complain about its interminable pacing to your friends, only to later come to the conclusion that it was one of your favorite films of the year. Needless to say, this last example proved to be my experience with Abbas Kiarostami’s final feature, Like Someone in Love.

In the days following my college graduation, I was fortunate enough to attend the 65th annual Cannes Film Festival. As someone who devoured art house and foreign features in my formative years, I grew to view Cannes as this hallowed Mecca of film culture—a place ripe with cream-of-the-crop directors and the intellectuals waiting to dissect their latest masterpiece. In reality, you spend less time attending premieres and yacht parties and more time passing by booth after booth of people hocking distribution rights to various generic action flicks starring tired former matinee idols at the twilight of their careers. The fact that I contracted a minor ear infection and had my recently upgraded cell phone stolen in the first few days certainly helped to temper my wide-eyed innocence. Still, I attempted to find enjoyment where I could. One of the hot tickets was the premiere of Kiarostami’s Like Someone in Love, which I managed to secure after enlisting one of my more attractive friends to help beg for tickets.

Set in modern-day Tokyo, the film tells the relatively straightforward story of Akiko (Rin Takanashi), a university student moonlighting as a high-class prostitute, and her encounter with Takashi (Tadashi Okuno), an elderly client who seems more interested in having dinner and chatting than engaging in any manner of lascivious activity. Given Like Someone in Love’s Japanese setting, Kiarostami more than ever seems to be bringing his love for Yasujir? Ozu (explicitly addressed in Five Dedicated to Ozu) to a logical fruition. From its opening shot, the film’s precise composition and lengthy shot length make it seem as though the Tokyo Story director sprung to life more than 50 years after the fact and instantly picked up where he left off. Needless to say, when you’re slightly feverish and suffering from jet lag, it’s not the most conducive of styles to staying alert and lucid in the audience. Indeed, much like a certain scene involving Takashi in his car, my first viewing was characterized by aforementioned dips into dreamy unconsciousness.

Despite walking over from the premiere somewhat underwhelmed, I found myself thinking more and more about the experience as the week dragged on. Slowly but surely, the film’s images wormed their way under my skin, with the existential loneliness of its characters mirroring my own sense of isolation as I wandered aimlessly through the glitzy neighborhoods with no mobile device or human companions to orient me. In particular, I thought back to one of the film’s early scenes in which Akiko finds herself shuttled through the city. As the beautiful neon lights pass by and reflect through the vehicle’s window, Akiko listens to a series of unanswered voicemails from her grandmother. The first few messages lets us know that her grandmother is coming to visit and wants desperately to see Akiko—specifically, Grandma seems to have heard rumors about her granddaughter’s nightly occupation via an agency advertisement that prominently features her in a photo. The next batch makes it clear that Akiko has not responded to that initial outreach.

As the voicemails continue, we are met with the sad realization that the woman arrived in town, waited for Akiko to pick her up, but was left to trudge back home upon recognizing that no one was coming for her. It’s like the infamous Jon Favreau voicemail scene in Swingers, only instead of pivoting on general cringe, the sequence traffics in despairing alienation.

Akiko never again brings up this devastating moment or why she chose to leave her relative hanging. Presumably, based on context, one can determine that she feared being shunned and disowned by her family should her secret occupation be confirmed. Thus, in Takashi, she appears to find a comforting presence—namely, someone who knows her line of work yet insists on engaging her warmly, paternally. Without judgment. Likewise, Takashi appears to relish the opportunity to act as a grandfatherly figure to this young, aimless woman. And yet, in pure Kiarostami fashion, one can never be sure how much of this connection is authentic and how much of it occurs with the full awareness that these encounters are part of a paid transaction. Do the two even need to be mutually exclusive?

The enigmatic disconnect between a person’s interior and exterior worlds is what fuels the film’s central narrative, as well as many entries in Kiarostami’s career. Here, this notion is magnified by the fact that—like Certified Copy before it—the Iranian Kiarostami is producing a film in a language of which he has very little—to possibly no—understanding. On one level, this affords him the typical outsider’s insight as to the fascinating minutia of Japanese culture, from the oppressive city lights to the use of space in living quarters. On a deeper level, this barrier between the director and his material puts Kiarostami in a similar position to his characters. As screenwriter, though he obviously knows the ins and outs of the story itself, he will never be privy to the nuances and natural shorthand that his actors inherently bring to his translated lines. He has intimate knowledge of the narrative yet sets himself up to be removed from its performing.

Perhaps the film’s most enlightening sequence involves Akido and Takashi discussing a painting of a woman and a parrot. As the learned professor, Takashi remarks how the woman is teaching the parrot to speak. Akiko retorts that she always thought it was the other way around—that the parrot was teaching the woman to speak. Such an intense divide in perception and interpretation—based on everything from gender to a generational gap—could very well work as a primer on Kiarostami’s entire filmography, not to mention as shorthand for my own experience with the film—as well as a symbol for the ways in which a person’s taste needs time to catch up to a film, and vice versa.

When I first viewed Like Someone in Love, I perceived it as a beautifully composed, yet somewhat hollow entry from an elder statesman who had probably lost a bit of his bite. Weeks later, upon viewing it in a cramped art house theater with none of the Cannes-approved pomp and circumstance, I saw a gorgeous, unfailingly mature portrait of isolation from a master craftsman with a burning desire to explore life’s biggest questions.

Much later, I read an interview that Amanda quotes above, in which Kiarostami insists that he doesn’t mind if people fall asleep during his films, so long as they dream about it afterward. I suppose that even if I didn’t realize it, I’d always made for one of the late filmmaker’s ideal audience members. —Mark Rozeman

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