The antidote to Oscar season, #1: Abbas Kiarostami’s ‘Like Someone in Love’

An Iranian director working in Japan, but nothing gets lost in translation here.

This year a number of good movies are in the Oscar race, and yet the marathon PR campaigns of awards season — almost impossible to avoid if you live in L.A. — can make it hard to remember what was initially interesting, not so long ago, about the films themselves.

It was a relief to catch the new movie from Abbas Kiarostami last weekend and rejoin a cinematic world far removed from feverish speculation about Argo‘s award chances: Like Someone in Love marks the director’s second foray outside his native Iran, after Certified Copy saw him basking in the Tuscan countryside with Juliette Binoche. That  memorably disorienting movie played like a travelogue turned head trip; the more modest Like Someone in Love is like an elegant, well-crafted short story.

This time Kiarostami has trained his camera on Tokyo (“Sometimes I feel more Japanese than Iranian,” the director has stated)  for the tale of a kindly old academic  (Tadashi Okuno) who allows himself to be mistaken for the grandfather of a call girl (Rin Takanashi). He  plays along with the mistaken identity, but will soon wish he hadn’t. As in Certified Copy, the characters’ role-playing has a way of turning their lives upside down.

Languidly paced at first, the story becomes increasingly surprising, with a hint of tragicomedy. The biggest surprise is the offbeat ending, which is so jarring you can’t help but speculate as to what happens to the characters after the end credits have rolled.

UPDATE, 5/20/14: Like Someone in Love is out now on Blu-Ray and DVD, from the Criterion Collection.

This movie makes even the traffic in Tokyo dreamily beautiful. © Copyright IFC Films.

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