Sorry I couldn't get to this last night.
First of all, I want to thank AlanSChin for taking the time to write such a thoughtful and detailed response. Posts like yours in response to threads like this one are the reason I signed up for the board in the first place last year, so I hope you'll stick around and become a regular here too, because it seems like you've got a lot to offer.
I agree with many of the descriptions below even if I disagree with some of the interpretations. It reminds me of Jim Emerson's film criticism in a good way. How he likes to start off with a careful close reading so everyone is on the same page before he starts making judgments. Spoilers follow for anyone who's not yet seen the film.
AlanSChin wrote:#2: Grandmother/voicemails/taxi-drive-by. Everybody seems to love this scene, the way it's filmed, the heartbreaking emotions, etc. Result: TOO spelled out. Not ambiguous enough. Why can't she jump out even for 5 minutes to say a quick hello? Is it, as her pimp says, because something rushed like that would be unsatisfying to everybody? So, instead, glimpse, guilt. Too cut and dry, too predictable. Conflicted feelings about her grandmother? Maybe she was a mean grandmother as well as a loved one. Who knows? We don't care enough, because we're thrown into the standard "feels bad about not being filial enough even though she wants to be more" trope.
She uses the grandmother as an excuse to try and get out of her "date," but then blows off the grandmother when she could have stopped -- and she very likely could have met her earlier too -- regardless of what her pimp tries to tell her about how satisfying a short meeting will or won't be. Without being absolutely on the nose about it, the scene is pretty clearly about how the girl is alienated from her family because of the shame about her job. That's more than a standard generic "I should be a better (grand)daughter" kind of beat.
AlanSChin wrote:#3: Apartment scene with professor. Narrative choice: Do the professor and our heroine have sex (or intimate contact) or not? Answer: Not sure. We're not sure, but much later in the film he folds up a blanket in the living room, as if he slept on the couch. But then he finds a little bracelet, throwing us back into ambiguity. Result: Satisfying. Knowing for sure would sway our perspective too much in one character's direction or another.
I could agree with this if the fundamental ambiguity of their central relationship somehow became the crux of the film, as it does in Certified Copy
. Here, however, much less is made of this uncertainty, especially because of what happens later.
AlanSChin wrote:#3a: Bigger question about professor: Is he a regular customer of escorts, or is this a first time thing? Or is it even a gift from his former student, the pimp? She teases him when she says she smells perfume on his pillow. He denies. Is she just teasing, or does she really smell perfume? Does any of that matter? No. Result: Satisfying. (Regarding his work responsibilities with publisher, translations, etc., I don't think we need to know more. This is his day job. He's respected. But annoyed too. Normal enough.)
I like the way some of those details play out in isolation but in the context of the whole film this not knowing if they slept together becomes a part of not knowing what the professor wants/wanted from her in the first place and not knowing who he is at all to her later on.
AlanSChin wrote:(Scenes with boyfriend in car and garage, and then rescue of girl after she's been beaten up are not ambiguous. Lots of fun and wordplay. All good. Drives story along.)
The scenes with the boyfriend in the car are largely about the effects of basic dramatic irony -- the audience and the girl and the professor know something the boyfriend doesn't. They are sort of fun while they are unfolding. But in retrospect it's hard to say how they affect the whole of the story. Since we can't know if these interactions make the boyfriend feel more angry, jealous, betrayed than he would have if he'd just found out the truth about his girlfriend without them. And since we don't know if she really loves him and would like to work things out from her perspective. And furthermore, why the professor himself has opted to give the girl a ride and to do more than drop her off and part ways, but to wait until she's done with her test and take her anywhere she wants to go afterward. Ultimately, the film doesn't tease us with the professor's motivations in these scenes so much as it uses their vagueness as a plot device.
AlanSChin wrote:#4: Neighbor lady. Gives us hints about professor's past, his wife, daughter, and grand-daughter. But a lot left unanswered too. Result: Satisfying. We know that he has a real past with tragedies, losses, possibly because of his flaws or as a victim, all very human. But we don't get enough details, which is good, because that's just like real life, when you hear bits of rumors, but not the whole story.
For me this is one of the weaker bits. It echoes nosy neighbor digressions in other Kiarostami features with less humor or interest. I don't see how lifting the veil about these specific details does much for the audience's relationship with or understanding of the professor. We hear about the old woman's loneliness and pain too, about her admiring the professor from afar, but I don't get a greater feeling for the alienation of the characters in the film because she's stuck with her retarded brother, for instance. Even more so than the stuff with the girl's grandma at the outset -- which at least seemed Ozu-esque to me -- these bits feel melodramatic.
AlanSChin wrote:#5: Fundamental question about relationship between professor and girl: she called him for rescue. Not her pimp or her friend. He does so. But then she's hesitant to remove the bloody towel from her face. There are still trust issues that the two of them are working on. Is he now client / lover / not-lover / grandfather-surrogate / friend-in-need / all of the above? What's fantastic is that the beeping of the microwave cycle ending after he warms up a cup of milk for her continues through the final, violent scene that follows. Brilliant touch. Result: Not satisfying enough, after all these narrative choices we yearn to get SOME grounding here! But it follows the logic of the film.
I like that microwave sound too.
I'll quote select bits again for emphasis: "Not satisfying enough, after all these narrative choices we yearn to get SOME grounding here!"
I can obviously agree with this. And here's where it gets tricky, then, because I'd argue that a well-constructed narrative -- as in so many other Kiarostami films, for example -- isn't necessarily modular. You can't just snip out a bit here or there and shuffle stuff around. You can't just sprinkle more meaning or information onto the exact location of a trouble spot. So to call out a problem like this one means reassessing the conception and construction of the whole and asking deeply how we got here, where we're going and what it's actually about. Which speaks to my feeling that the story/script of Like Someone In Love
plays like a first draft and could use a major rewrite.
"But it follows the logic of the film." Could you elaborate more on what you mean here? For me it's in the transitions between the rest of the film and beat #5 or between beats #5 and #6 where the logic of the film breaks down.
AlanSChin wrote:#6: Final scene, do the professor and the girl suffer serious injury from crazed boyfriend or not? We see him fall after the rock flies through the window, but he's not hit by it. He falls in a duck-and-cover/slipping reaction. But he's old and a bit frail, not overly so for his age, but a bit...so, will this kill him? Put him in the hospital with a broken hip? Or not? Same with her...does the boyfriend now break down the door and beat her up, or not? Result: Very satisfying! Because this is the very point where all of this delicate set-up, which nonetheless has had slight consequences, could get very real and life-changing. In which way? It's a turning point in
these characters' lives. It's left to us to think about that. Perfect.
We're obviously not in agreement on the ending. I guess I don't think we can say with any authority that it is a "turning point," for instance, simply because we don't know enough about what the professor or the girl wanted from each other, about what the girl wanted from her boyfriend or about what happens next.
I've been involved in random bits of violence before in my life, once or twice because of tenuous connections to acquaintances who ended up spilling over the crazy of their own relationships onto me, my family or my friends. But none of them were "turning points," because in each case, luckily, the threat/injury to my person or property was not severe enough (a detail we can't know about the professor -- just a broken window and a start? a head wound, a scratch or a heart attack?) and because pretty much no one involved seriously impacted the people and things I valued most in life. Each one was more like a minor car accident. An annoying collision with the outside world that had to be dealt with but didn't derail my life. I don't think Kiarostami lets us know enough about what the professor and girl really want to make any assessment of how serious the results of the ambiguous ending might be for them. (Or on a more meta level why they are the ideal characters to dramatize this particular theme.)
Whereas, once again, I'm not in doubt about how the journey of the whole film has impacted the main characters in Close-Up
, Taste of Cherry
, The Wind Will Carry Us
or Certified Copy
, even if the endings don't spell everything out or wrap things up neatly, denying us conventional closure. For me there's a sense of rightness in the culmination of those films that Like Someone In Love
does not earn.