Sunday, July 27, 2014

THE ESSENTIAL JACQUES DEMY: BAY OF ANGELS - #715


Just how much money would you throw away for Jeanne Moreau? Personally, they couldn’t print the stuff up fast enough to keep pace with my wanton spending. Because, come on, she’s Jeanne Moreau.

There are several points throughout Jacques Demy’s 1963 post-noir gambling picture Bay of Angels when Jean (Claude Mann, Army of Shadows [review]) has to ask himself how much he’s really prepared to lose for Moreau’s Jackie. She’s the former wife of a rich industrialist, cast aside on account of her addiction, leaving husband and child behind for the roulette tables on the French Riviera. Jean is rather new to gambling, but he’s already turned his back on his father to take this trip to Nice. A co-worker took him to the casino and he won big, and he thinks he kind of has it figured out, that he can guess what numbers will come up next by keeping track of the odds.


Jean first spies Jackie on that initial daytime gambling outing, when he and his buddy (Paul Guers) ditch work and the other fellow shows him the ropes. Jackie is being thrown out of the casino for cheating. When they run into each other again, she denies this at first, but the more she comes to cling to Jean, whom she sees as a good luck charm, Jackie gets more and more honest.

Bay of Angels tracks the highs and lows of their few days together. When things are going well, they chase the win, and Jackie indulges in every luxury she can imagine the moment cash comes her way. More often than not, though, they are riding the loss, drowning their sorrows, scheming for new ways to find money to keep playing. Jean tries to be practical, he plays little tricks to hide funds away, but Jackie figures him out. It’s like how alcoholics stash booze around the house. Jackie knows where to look.


Demy wrote the script in addition to directing, and he gets the manic mood swings of compulsive gambling, Michel Legrand’s hurried theme coming back on time and again to remind us that the fever has taken over. There’s much lying and equivocating going on. Both Jackie and Jean acknowledge having problems several times before immediately flipping and denying there is such a thing. Jackie manipulates Jean, and he sometimes gets mean and even violent when he catches on, but that’s also part of their ride. She plays him in a chancy game of seduction, and sometimes she guesses wrong when it comes to how much he can actually take. Moreau is brilliant here, decked out in tight dresses and bleached hair, which she regularly plays with, a weird quirk of habitual vanity that makes her look a little Mae West and a little Marilyn Monroe. She is a natural mess, not too over-the-top or caricatured, often drunk and regularly in the middle of a con. There’s a bit of survivor to her, which inspires how she uses others. The performance makes me think of Faye Dunaway in Barfly : ladies who will do what they have to in order to get what they need. Demy tries to warn his protagonist away--the film literally opens with the camera fleeing away from Jackie--but Jean’s done in by her all the same. Jackie is a classic femme fatale.


And Bay of Angels is essentially a crime film without any actual crime. Back when Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips were doing their masterful pulp comic book Criminal,, they had essays in the back of the issues from guest writers talking about some of their favorite film noir and crime movies. I always hoped I’d get asked to contribute, I wanted to write about Bay of Angels. There is no heist nor even petty theft, and only a little bit of cheating, but it’s a crime movie all the same. In part, it’s the seedier side of the criminal lifestyle. The fleabag hotels, the big scores turning into big losses, the plans that go nowhere--it’s the harsh truth that comes after the bad deeds are done.



But it’s also the damage that this pair does to each other. That is the real criminal behavior. Jean may be manipulated by Jackie, but he eggs her on to do it. He puts her on a pedestal and encourages her every whim. The more foolish she acts, the more smitten he is. He is a chump.

And yet they also have some actual affection for one another. The last shot of Bay of Angels is a reverse on the first, this time Jackie running toward the lens to catch her man before he gets away. The movie was photographed by Jean Rabier, who also worked with Demy’s wife Agnes Varda [here, and here] and would go on to shoot The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. His work here more recalls the realism that he brought to The 400 Blows [review], however; Rabier and Demy work with real locations, shooting in actual hotel rooms and in back alleys and boardwalks, to give Bay of Angels its grimy atmosphere. There is nothing glamorous about how these gamblers live, save for the rare occasions they are flush and upgrade to new clothes, a new car, and a suite in a fancier hotel. They exist in pockets of the world nestled within the same spaces where the rest of us live. Rabier’s framing emphasizes this by isolating them. The lovers often appear to be moving about separate from the rest, as if everyone else in the room is locked into a different speed and oblivious to their presence.


Then again, that love affair is its own addiction. They can’t give up on each other any more than they can give up on gambling. That’s the true tragedy of it all. They need and deserve each other just as much as they are one another’s particular poison. Nourishing and fatal all at the same time.


This disc was provided by Criterion for purpose of review.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

THE ESSENTIAL JACQUES DEMY: LOLA - #714


In a cinematic universe where so much of what makes it into theaters is commodified and homogenized to fit into recognizable norms, one must celebrate genuine, individual voices like Jacques Demy’s. His signature films are truly unmistakable and like no other, something it won’t take new viewers long to ascertain once they start working their way through Criterion’s The Essential Jacques Demy boxed set.

Even in his first film, Lola, released in 1961, when the auteur most resembles his Nouvelle Vague contemporaries, there is still something uniquely Demy: doomed romanticism born of a bittersweet love affair, characters too wrapped in themselves to fully surrender to another, but told with such virtuoso technique, there’s a bit of everyday magic akin to a fairy tale.


Lola, which Demy wrote as well as directed, takes place in a small French town over approximately 36 hours. It has several criss-crossing stories, though the connector between them all is Roland (Marc Michel, playing the same role he will pick up again in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg). Not coincidentally, one assumes, the hero here shares his name with that of the knight in the great French poem. In The Song of Roland, Roland dies from blowing too hard on his trumpet; in Lola, the lover’s folly is in the shape of a child’s horn, bought for the son of his lady even after a rival has beat him to it.


Roland is a gadabout who can’t hold a job and broods over the way his life became derailed after serving in the War. (They don’t specify which, though he seems too young for WWII.) A chance meeting with a young girl and her mother (Annie Dupéroux and Elina Labourdette) reminds Roland of his childhood love, who shares similar looks and the same name as the teenager Cécile. Roland’s lost paramour now calls herself Lola, and she works at a nearby dancehall, strutting with sailors, to support her and her son. Like Roland, she has lost a love, but in this case her child’s father, Michel (Jacques Harden), who disappeared prior to their son’s birth. Connecting everyone further, Michel is the son of one of Roland’s neighbors.


Coincidence fuels the narrative here. After Cécile, Roland then bumps into Lola, and they rekindle their relationship despite the years apart--at least as much as she will allow. Cécile likewise runs across Frankie (Alan Scott), an American sailor in love with Lola, who looks similar to how she describes Michel (tall, blonde, etc.). Meanwhile, Cécile’s mother wishes Roland would take notice of her--though even she harbors a broken heart and an exiled romance. There are layers upon layers to the potential relationships here. Young Cécile is maybe the most heartbroken of all, as both Roland and Frankie are grown up and forbidden fruit. Like Venn diagrams of the heart, these would-be mates cross over with each other only to cross back out into solitude again.


As the main object of affection, Lola is played by Anouk Aimée, who went on to work for Fellini in 8 1/2 [review] and La Dolce Vita. Aimée’s foxlike features and flighty performance both attracts and repels, at least when watching from the outside. Her chosen career makes her motivations often hard to discern. When are her emotions honest? When does she cover the truth with inconsequential chatter? Is she playing with the affections of others just to buy time? Her most unguarded moment comes midway through the film, after Roland has confessed his affection, and then reacted poorly to her rejection. Demy sees his heroine as more than just a pretty object for men to desire, but an example of what that desire forces women to do in order to survive. Lola pushes and pulls as necessary to maintain control, accepting the male gaze and bending it as it suits her. As she confesses when frustrated with Roland, she has never had a male friend, only would-be pursuers. It’s them who lie to her, pretending to care until the get what they want.


Demy masterfully juggles all of these various characters and concerns, letting them ebb together and then fall apart. He is assisted ably by cinematographer Raoul Coutard, who would be Godard’s go-to man throughout the 1960s, and composer Michel Legrand, who was essential to many films from the New Wave, but he had no relationship quite as pronounced as the one with Demy (Legrand orchestrated all but the last of the films in this boxed set). Legrand’s classical melodies lend an old-fashioned melodramatic flavor to Lola, whereas the themes of Demy’s script and the real settings, lit without flare by Coutard, keep the story grounded.

Demy is something of a woman’s director in that his actresses all fare better than his men. This could be by design. Frankie is a big lug, and Roland is a stuffed shirt, and perhaps Demy wanted them to be less than ideal. On the other hand, all of the actresses come off as alive and complex. Elina Labourdette is tragic and tired as Cécile’s mom, and Cléo from 5 to 7’s Corrinne Marchand is impossible to miss as Daisy, another dancer. Demy seems more fascinated by the women in most of his creations. Who can blame him? Men are such drips!


It’s fitting that the movie that leads The Essential Jacques Demy is also one I haven’t seen (the other is the last film, Une chambre en ville.) The new restoration is rather lovely, with a consistently pleasing filmic look. As this one was one of the more difficult to restore, it bodes well for the rest--which I’ll be covering in chronological order as swiftly as I can. Regardless, as a debut, Lola sets up the promise that other Demy films deliver on, both aesthetically and narratively, as well as the disappointment and heartbreak that is endemic to his best material.


In addition to Lola, the first disc has four Demy short subjects spanning 1951 to 1962, with the last one being a segment about “Lechery” taken from an anthology film about the seven deadly sins. Of all of them, the earliest, Les horizons morts, best fits with the director’s early features. Demy actually stars in this silent slice of despair as a jilted romantic who considers ending it all. The documentary “Ars,” about the mythology surrounding a long-dead priest whose body never decomposed, also shows the filmmaker’s fanciful approach to mysticism and belief. He re-creates the clergy’s steps, using his camera as a point of view object, to navigate French streets as they were in 1959, but with the intent of discovering where they led this sainted figure.


This disc was provided by Criterion for purpose of review.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

THE BIG CHILL - #720


I spent yesterday watching a couple of Woody Allen movies. Though they were from different parts of his career and set in different time periods, both showed the idly rich and overly liberal indulging in all manner of impossible and ridiculous behavior. In a lot of ways, Woody Allen characters are the kind of delusional upper middle-class bozos that most of us should really turn our backs on, their lives so separate from the average filmgoer that we can never hope to identify. Like a Vanity Fair article with punchlines.

And yet this somehow works for Woody. In a way that otherwise escapes someone like Lawrence Kasdan, even though he has the same out-of-touch attraction to the type of people he might rub elbows with but whom the vast majority of us will never meet or, if we do, actually want to spend time with. Is it that a Woody Allen movie like Everyone Says I Love You or even his latest doesn’t attempt to sell us reality, but instead entices us with the notion that we can peek in on a fantasy world where everyone is smart and says pithy things and has jobs that very few might actually have? In his world, a sarcastic writer is on staff at the New Yorker; in Kasdan’s, Jeff Goldblum writes for (the) People. But he feels sick about it. Except he doesn’t.


Perhaps it’s too late for me to finally see The Big Chill. I mentioned this to one of my colleagues, and he said, “But aren’t you a big fan of Grand Canyon?” And, yes, I am, I have a soft spot for Kasdan’s next ensemble drama, but I’d also wager it’s been since 2001 that I last viewed the 1991 film, back when it was released on DVD for the first time, and I recall thinking that it was already showing its age back them. Yeah, yeah, sure, we’re all connected. One life flows into the next. That was Kasdan welcoming us to the 1990s.


Whereas The Big Chill is fully set in the 1980s. Released in ’83, it is an apology for the Baby Boomers, an attempt to find soul in the infamously soulless decade. That’s why the music is all taken from the 1960s. No synthesizers are to be heard on this soundtrack--which famously established the notion of a moneymaking compilation album, impossible to replicate today without spending wads of cash, and yet ironically ignoring that many of its featured players, including the Rolling Stones and Steve Winwood, were not faring so well in terms of integrity on the time of release. Call me crazy, but I’d prefer a John Hughes movie any day. Sixteen Candles [review] was only a year away, was as ’80s as you please, and still looks as young as its characters some three decades later. Plus, screw you, the music is awesome and forward-thinking.

Whereas The Big Chill has the same desperation of its thirtysomethings on their way to a mid-life crisis. Which I’m in the middle of, so maybe that’s why I can’t understand what they are whining about. Like I said, it’s too late for me to have empathy with these well-off nostalgia whores. I just can’t.


Which doesn’t meant I can’t appreciate or even enjoy The Big Chill. As a time capsule, it’s fairly illuminating. As cinema, it’s a precious snapshot of many fine actors at an early stage of their careers. Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, William Hurt, and whatever happened to JoBeth Williams? Tom Berenger serves as a good parody of Tom Selleck, and Jeff Goldblum is laying the groundwork to be a parody of himself--and frankly, is the worst thing in this movie, the conduit for his auteur’s most sardonic and ultimately flaccid bons mot. Yet, as period-specific ensemble pieces go, I actually enjoyed The Big Chill a hell of a lot more than Nashville, the appeal of which largely escapes me. I also prefer Tim Burton’s second Batman to his first. It’s all about expectations.


For those who somehow missed this cultural touchstone--or maybe blocked it out of their mind, realizing it was for the old folk, because like me you were 11 when The Big Chill was first released--Kasdan’s movie takes a look at a group of college friends who have reunited after many years because one of their own (Kevin Costner, whose face is never seen) has killed himself. This starts them on an existential path where they play at a lot of denial before eventually digging into some of their own emotions. Amidst it all, they casually take some drugs, listen to old records, and talk about how good they have it. (Kevin Kline’s insider trading was treated as a running gag; Gordon Gecko was still four years away.) Except if you really look, they don’t dig deep at all. Their self-reflection is pretty shallow. Don’t hold your breath waiting for William Hurt’s character to ever tell you what he saw in Vietnam. It’s enough to know that he went, we can’t ever really hear the gory details. Psychology means evoking Freud, then downing the rest of your merlot.


And yet, again, I must stress, The Big Chill is an enjoyable movie. I don’t think it’s a very good one, but it’s pretty easy to watch. Nobody really says anything offensive, they’re too busy living lives that are offensive. Because these folks are meant to be real, they are representative of their time, and not some recollection of a literary dream that their write/director once had. Lawrence Kasdan, unlike Woody Allen, has no idea how tiny his sphere is. These are his people, and he is them. And I’m guessing it makes for a relatively accurate representation of how people lived--or at least, wanted to--while Reagan was President. As a museum piece, The Big Chill is fascinating; as vital drama, it’s as cold as the title implies. Just know that going in, it might just keep you from leaving the party early.


For a complete rundown on the special features, read the full review at DVD Talk

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A HARD DAY'S NIGHT - #711

Here is a mini review of Richard Lester's Beatles film written for the Oregonian to promote the film showing in Portland this holiday weekend. See the original posting here



It’s hard to imagine now what an impact the Beatles had when they first twisted and shouted, but my guess is “A Hard Day’s Night” is a pretty good indicator.

Richard Lester’s 1964 rock-and-roll vehicle showcases John, Paul, George, and Ringo as performers and personalities. It’s buoyant and fun, and packed frame to frame with joy.

Plus, those songs! They still have no peer, even fifty years on.


This new digital restoration means “A Hard Day’s Night” will look and sound brand new for the 21st Century.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

JUDEX - #710


You’re just going to have to indulge outright that there is going to be some self-promotion in this one. It’s bound to happen from time to time. Happened before, will happen again. Sometimes the right paths just cross.

In this case, it’s some fortuitous coincidence that I just now watched the new Blu-ray of Georges Franju’s 1963 pulp homage Judex. This spiritual remake of Louis Feuillade’s 1916 silent cliffhanger features a mysterious, justice-minded magician (Channing Pollock) intent on making an ethically challenged rich man pay for his crimes. Its roots predate comic books, but Feuillade’s film, as well as his serials Fantomas and Les vampires [review], drew from and inspired the pulps, and then also inspired the comics industry as it blossomed to life. This Criterion edition even features a cover by artist Ronald Wimberly, himself channeling a little Eduardo Risso, bringing lurid life to Judex’s stonefaced crimefighter and his masked archnemesis.


This viewing also happens on the eve of Oni Press releasing a comic book of mine called Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks. It stars a hypnotist in a classic domino mask looking to stop a murder plot involving a wealthy banker and his emotionally distant wife. Created with artist Dan Christensen, Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks draws on a long tradition of stoic heroes working their tricks in the dark, from the Shadow to the Spirit to Mandrake the Magician. And yes, even to silent French cinema--or, in this case, 1960s French cinema. Even if it is just a startling coincidence. Though I had seen bits of Feuillade’s Judex while working in a video store, I wasn’t even aware of Franju’s until Criterion announced it was on its way. In my lead-up to Archer Coe, I was watching American noir like Edmund Goulding’s Nightmare Alley and Otto Preminger’s Laura; judging by the evidence, it’s almost like I tapped into some Jungian story space to draw directly from the Judex redo, as well.


The plot I’ve hinted at in the above is not much more complicated that what I’ve suggested. An oily banker (Michel Vitold) has started receiving threatening notes demanding he give up his fortune to the people he’s wronged or suffer the consequences. The threats are signed “Judex,” or “judge.” Believing himself untouchable, the banker refuses, only to fall down dead at the time his accuser appointed for him. The victim’s daughter Jacqueline (Edith Scob, also in Franju’s Eyes Without a Face and Assayas’ Summer Hours [review]) inherits his fortune, but when she discovers the less-than-savory ways in which daddy earned it, she rejects the money, giving Judex what he sought all along. Meanwhile, the banker’s would-be mistress Diana (Francine Bergé, Mr. Klein) wants the cash for herself and starts a plot to kill the girl and steal the riches.


Mimicking the serialized nature of the silent original, Franju maintains an episodic narrative, allowing for an ineffectual private detective (Jacques Jouanneau) to wander in and out of the story, and for Diana to try multiple plots that all go wrong As these occur, Judex lingers around, keeping watch over Jacqueline and manipulating other lives in hopes of bringing about justice. In terms of action, he’s far from Batman. Rather, he tends to be too late and not much of a fighter when he arrives on the scene. His only truly effective moment is early on when he first shows up wearing an elaborate bird’s mask at the banker’s party and performs magic tricks with doves. He appears there as a creepy specter bringing death to the condemned. It’s the closest you’ll ever get to having fun with this guy at a party.


Which turns out to be a major drawback for Franju’s film. For a movie that features both a wicked villainess in a black catsuit and a pretty circus acrobat (Sylva Koscina, Juliet of the Spirits) who randomly shows up to help out, Judex is decidedly unsexy. None of the relationships have much sizzle, nor does the action really ever take off. Instead, this is like a drawing room approximation of a lurid murder mystery: perfectly poised, artfully styled, but maybe too self-aware and too smart for its own good.



Luckily all of that stylization means Franju has a lot of good will to burn. He also makes a smart choice in his main villain. Francine Bergé is seductively evil, equally at home in a hipster’s dancehall outfit and a nun’s habit. If only the director had effectively let his femme fatale loose on his stuffed-shirt of a hero, Judex could have been a real hoot! (Imagine it in the hands of Henri-Georges Clouzot....)

Maybe I’ll have to resurrect Diana for one of the future adventures of Archer Coe.


In addition to the sparkling restoration of Judex, Criterion has included a bunch of bonus features on their dual-format release. Amongst those are a recent interview with Bergé, a biographical profile of Franju, and two of the director’s early shorts. One of those, the half-hour Le grand Méliès, pays tribute to the legendary cinematic innovator. Like Feuillade, Méliès was one of Franju’s heroes, and this mini-biopic both tells Méliès’ story and adopts some of his techniques. Featuring the filmmaker’s widow as herself, and their son Andre as his father, Le grand Méliès recreates the post-war years when the artist ran a toy shop in a train station (as seen in Scorsese’s Hugo), one of his magical stage shows, and his journey as an early cinema pioneer, culminating in making A Trip to the Moon. It’s a loving little doff of the cap from one director back through time to another.


This disc was provided by the Criterion Collection for purposes of review.

  

Sunday, June 29, 2014

HEARTS AND MINDS - #156


Released in 1974, with the Vietnam War still quite visible in America’s collective rearview mirror, Peter Davis’ influential and provocative documentary Hearts and Minds takes an incisive, comprehensive look at the extended conflict with a kind of broad-minded clarity that is astonishing.

Davis crafts his nearly two-hour film using new interviews, archival footage, and scenes of record. The final product covers the gamut of what happened, engaging with difficult ideas, and hearing all sides, beginning with the historical precedent for foreign meddling in the region and ending with Nixon, the last of five American presidents to stick his nose into the country, giving a self-congratulatory address to a room full of veterans and supporters. There is a narrative to Hearts and Minds, mostly built on the actual timeline for the war, but Davis treats time as elastic, creating juxtapositions between words and deeds, between of-the-moment action and the hindsight distance provides.


The thematic foundation of Hearts and Minds is the United States’ belief in itself as a world power following our successful involvement in World War II. This is when we began to view ourselves as a global police force--a distinction that is chilling to examine today. Given current events and the return of American soldiers to Iraq after we had finally extracted ourselves from a mess we created, it’s frightening to see how little our thinking has evolved in the intervening decades. Our nation became co-conspirators in a pattern of interference in Southeast Asia that apparently taught us very little.

But then, that’s what they say about history, isn’t it? Despite effective tools like Hearts and Minds, our failure to learn dooms us to repeat.



To compile his report, Davis casts a wide net. He talks to soldiers, politicians, and civilians, including Americans casting their gaze across the sea and Vietnamese farmers who took the brunt of our attacks full on. We hear from true believers, dissenters, and those who have lost faith. Religious figures from over there and over here both bear witness. There are generals and front-line combatants. Some interviewees have faces that are familiar--General William Westmoreland, Daniel Ellsberg--while most are not so famous. An additional unsettling feeling of déjà vu emerges as the participants talk about the nature of the fighting and the United States’ role as invaders and, to some, counterrevolutionaries. Listening to one bomber pilot talk about how technology had already created a sense of disassociation between shooter and target--the computer does it all, he just hits a button--shows us how the path toward drones and satellite tracking really began. It appears we’ve been on one course this entire time, one driven by the engines of the Military-Industrial Complex.


Which is what makes Hearts and Minds still so compelling after forty years, and what makes Peter Davis look so prescient. His film isn’t just a history of the Vietnam War, but a portrait of the American pathology. Seemingly incongruous scenes showing our obsession with football, including a coach rattling the helmets of his teenage players and a preacher pondering the ethics of praying for one team to win from the pulpit, make sense in the larger context. Our actions overseas are driven by the same desire to win, to be the biggest and baddest on the field, regardless of the end result. There is no other goal than scoring for our side, and somehow so many of us still don’t seem to realize that’s no way to win.


Hearts and Minds was a landmark release in 1974, and it’s easy to see why. The breadth of Peter Davis’ documentary and the skill with which he pulls together so many disparate sources to create one history is astonishing. It remains a standard documentarians should still be compared to today. On its own, Hearts and Minds stands as a crucial account of the troubled conflict that created unrest both overseas and here at home. It’s more than a time capsule, however, proving eerily apropos of similar troubles in the Middle East today. Four decades later, we’ve evolved hardly at all, and the fact that the evidence was all there for us to learn from all this time is depressing. Hearts and Minds is a vital account for hawks and doves alike who want to better understand the sort of mindset that leads to war.


For a complete rundown on the special features, read the full review at DVD Talk

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE - #707


A personal motto, and one I am admittedly bad at adhering to, is, “Don’t ask any questions you don’t know the answer to.” It’s a bit off the mark, just in terms of semantics, because the real meaning is, “Don’t ask a question if you know the answer is the one you don’t want.” My phrasing allows you to let yourself off the hook a little, particularly as it applies to when you’d really rather be in denial over whatever is at issue.

The old professor Takashi Watanabe (Tadashi Okuno) says something similar in Abbas Kiarostami’s latest, Like Someone in Love. His version, paraphrased, is don’t go asking questions if you suspect you’re going to be lied to. In other words, you’re probably right, so hang on to your ignorance. It’s the suspicious person’s version of, “Better to be silent and thought a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt.” A quote that itself, in its various forms, is regularly attributed to several different people, all whom likely said a variation of the same thing.


The divide between the truth we live and the truth we present to others is very much a theme of the best of Kiarostami’s work, including movies I’ve reviewed before (Certified Copy and Close-Up). In this case, love and longing are the reasons for the dishonesty, though I think from Takashi’s point of view, it’s not so much dishonesty as an alternate translation of the truth, one befitting an individual’s personal circumstance. (He translates literature for a living.)

The story begins not with the old professor, but with Akiko (Rin Takanashi), a student in Tokyo who has a jealous boyfriend and the worst kind of job for being in a relationship with such a fellow. In short, she is a call girl, however reluctantly, and not without her fair share of shame. Watanabe is her client for the evening, though however we might judge him at the outset, it’s never clear he has any sexual designs on the girl. Upon arrival, he insists she sit down for a meal, even as she lures him into the bedroom in hopes of getting him to climb into bed and take a nap. She notices a resemblance between herself and photos of different women of different ages scattered around his apartment. A neighbor later mistakes her for his granddaughter, while also suggesting that something went wrong in Watanabe’s past to chase away the women in his life. It’s quite possible the old man is just hiring Akiko to fill a hole he’s not been able to close.


Because he certainly falls into the role of parental caretaker. The day after their would-be date, he drives the girl to her university. There he meets her fiancé, the volatile Noriaki (Ryo Kase). The boy suspects what Akiko is up to, and he vacillates between believing the evidence and expecting Akiko to deny it. It’s him that Watanabe advises against giving his lover room to be deceitful. Somewhat ironically, he’s allowing Noriaki to think he is Akiko’s grandfather at the time. It’s a convenient fiction, one that the younger man would be better off letting stand, as well. Everyone here has either invented a role for themselves or let someone else do it for them. Or they’re projecting the image they want onto someone else. Noriaki wants Akiko to be the virtuous woman he imagines, and he all but admits his intentions of marrying her are so that she can no longer be, or even pretend, otherwise.


What’s interesting about Like Someone in Love is that Kiarostami’s script is not interested in exposing the lies or revealing the secrets behind them, but rather the lengths each character will go to in order to preserve their inventions. The professor has no tearful revelations about past mistakes, nor does the student rationalize her decisions to justify how she makes money. In fact, they are the sympathetic ones here, both for their need to preserve some kind of dignity and for how they find comfort in one another. The only information required is that they somehow need what these fictions supply, needs that extend beyond the sexual and the economic.

In that vein, Noriaki is the one for whom there is little empathy. He projects his lies on others with the petulance of a child. His coping skills leave much to be desired. In light of recent events in Santa Barbara, it’s possible I am judging him a little harshly, but Kiarostami has cast him as a bit of a cliché brute. He’s a mechanic and an anti-intellectual who can’t take a woman being anything but fully focused on him. Credit to Kase for how nonchalant he manages to make some of the more chilling moments. The way he asks Akiko what book she plans to buy at the bookstore is unsettling. What should be innocuous curiosity suddenly takes on a darker subtext.


Like Someone in Love is told as a quartet of long sequences. There is Akiko getting the job and heading to Watanabe’s, her night in his apartment, the day out together where they meet Noriaki, and their rejoining one another later. Though there are brief detours in each, those are essentially the four acts of Kiarostami’s narrative. He allows each scenario to run its course, preferring natural conversations to carefully edited dialogue or snippets of interactions. A good portion of the movie is spent inside Watanabe’s car, parked outside Akiko’s school. He drops her off, he sees her argue with Noriaki, he talks to Noriaki, and then they are joined by the girl. Kiarostami doesn’t cut away upon her arrival, but instead shoots from the hood of the car, peering in through the windshield, even as the old man starts the vehicle and pulls away from the curb. We are outside and inside simultaneously.


This makes Like Someone in Love one of those movies that defies traditional narrative and instead mimics the rhythms of real life. And yet, this too is a construct, a fiction that the filmmaker establishes and then tricks us into buying into--at least in the sense that he uses the simulacrum of realism to inspire us to invest in the happenings in a completely different way. The usual story logic by which we can predict the story’s developments, the act breaks, and the film’s climax, is taken away from us. We must watch and wait. The movie even ends at a moment we would not expect. Were it to keep going, Kiarostami would have to violate his own rule about explaining things here. The next scene, were it to happen, would require resolution and denouement. Instead, the storyteller stops just before the bubble bursts, ducking out right at the moment of impact--literally so for his characters, figuratively for those of us observing.


This disc was provided by Criterion for purpose of review.