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PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2013 2:50 pm 
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Excellent post, FerdinandGriffon, you stated a lot of points much more lucidly than I could ever hope to.

To expand on one of the smaller topics...

warren oates wrote:
[Reveal] Spoiler:
Who is the girl? What is her relationship with her boyfriend like; what does she want from it? Where is she going? Will she connect with her grandmother before it's too late? Who is the professor? What does he really want from the girl -- sex, companionship, surrogate daughter/wife roleplay? What has changed in each one of them the morning after? Why is the professor still so attached to her? Why does she allow him to be? How important is the professor's current book project -- does he need the work/money to live or is it something he's doing purely to pass the time? What will happen if the angry boyfriend finds out how they really know each other?
And yet most of these questions in Like Someone In Love remain uninterestingly unanswered.


Like, FerdinandGriffon, I don't think all these questions are necessarily essential to the film's narrative. To take for example the issue of the Professor's book project. I don't think we need to know specifically what it is, we can gauge how important it is by his reaction to it. Furthermore, I don't think human brain works in such a simplistic cost-benefit analysis sort of way where some trivial responsibility is so easily discarded. Even if the course of action is obvious, these little responsibilities are taxing on the brain, and I think that's what's trying to be conveyed. The scene works, not because there are these grave events that are weighing upon his conscience. It's more about how even in this safe secluded life, the outside world pours in through many outlets and each of these tasks take their toll on him. Watching him run about his apartment trying to sort everything out, only to have even more severe issues erupt at his door is one of the most terrifying things I've ever watched. It's about the lack of time and the constant push and pull as the various aspects of his life seize upon him with complete indifference to his situation. The price of this isolated city life, is that people also act upon him, and make demands of him without the embodied understanding that comes with physical human interaction.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2013 2:52 pm 
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FerdinandGriffon wrote:
warren oates wrote:
How is this the most interesting or illuminating story to tell about these characters? What do you learn about each of them by the end of the film that you didn't know the first time you met them? What do they learn about themselves? We know what the boyfriend wants, but what does the girl want? What about the professor?
Are these really questions that have any relevance to a film like this one? Or are they the necessary workshop questions for a certain kind of film or screenplay, one that is playing by these rules and that must be held accountable by a viewer if it breaks them? You're claiming that Kiarostami wasn't faithful to the tenets of central-conflict theory in this, one of his most elusive films, when I think it's a dubious proposition at best that any of his films could be considered beholden to them.*
Come on. This isn't Shirin. Kiarostami's telling a story. About characters he wants us to care about. And regardless of what you assume about how and where I've learned about narrative, Kiarostami seems to have a pretty deep and intuitive understanding of the timeless principles (not rules!) of human storytelling, which he's been refining throughout his career. If you don't see that, even in beautiful poetic art films like The Wind Will Carry Us, then it'll be hard to continue this discussion.

Let me ask you this: Why is Like Someone In Love intentionally calibrated to let the audience know the most about the least important character? We're never in doubt about what the boyfriend wants, what the stakes are for him or why he ends up doing anything he does. How does withholding similar dramatic information about the girl and the professor make the film so much stronger and more successful as art than it would otherwise be? How does that withholding relate to the same tactic in other Kiarostami films, like Certified Copy, The Wind Will Carry Us or Taste of Cherry? (You can guess that I think he does it more deftly and successfully in those other films).

FerdinandGriffon wrote:
Plenty! Just focussing on the professor's position, we have a character who's managed at a late age to create a life of hermetic comfort in his well-appointed apartment, while the rest of the world is literally kept at bay (windows), observable, analyzable, and, perhaps most significantly, delectable, all seemingly without risk to his person. I mean, hell, he can have a prostitute delivered to his apartment with more ease than a bowl of soup. Even that "hometown, homecooked" soup is a way of making contact with another world without personal risk. He's a translator and a sociologist, an expert in "objective" evaluation of milieus other than his own. I think there's an element of self-parody in Kiarostami's depiction of the character, as the filmmaker is of course also tussling with "translating" another culture than his own in making the film. The professor has a neighbor who has devoted her life and interests to him, but he's skillfully managed to shrink the issue into a dispute over car parking. He hires a prostitute who might also be his daughter or student, but their mutually enforced naivety prevents the transaction from having any appearance other than that of blissful, semi-comic innocence. And all of this is enabled by the modern, cultured metropolis, a space where the most perfidious self-deceptions and social abuses can occur as long as certain rules and limits are respected. Of course, the false confidence inspired in the professor by this utopia eventually leads him astray, and he discovers some of the pain, danger, and violence lying just under the polished surfaces of his everyday life. The ending is apocalyptic, a bitterly funny update of that old adage "don't throw stones in glass houses". I think it's one of the best city films I've ever seen, and I could go on much longer talking about what I think it has to say about the life I and billions of others lead.

One of the best city films ever, huh? As good as Wings of Desire or Lonesome or Taxi Driver or even Kiarostami's own Ten?

Really? Not that I didn't get much of that already. Those ideas are certainly hanging in the air intellectually. Just that, for me, Kiarostami fails to dramatize them emotionally or to make them affect me viscerally. What is it specifically about the professor's glass apartment or his ability to dial-up a prostitute that distinguishes him from millions of others in the same city? Or conversely that makes him particularly exemplary when it comes to the loneliness and alienation of so many of his contemporaries?

I suppose part of what I'm asking is what David Mamet refers to as the Passover question: What makes this day different from all other days? Why start the story here, now, with these particular people on this specific day? Which comes back to how poorly I think the professor's life is set up. Anything that's gained from whatever backstory is withheld from us is simultaneously lost when we fail to understand, for instance
[Reveal] Spoiler:
If this dial-up prostitution thing is a regular occurrence or the very first time. (A question we don't have about Mr. Badii, whose backstory is similarly vague, in Taste of Cherry, for instance. The Passover question's answer there is obvious: This is the day Mr. Badii has decided to kill himself.) Or take the importance of the professor's impending book project. Since we don't know whether this book is very important to him either as part of his intellectual legacy or as a way to support himself in his retirement, it doesn't matter all that much when he's shown to be torn between correcting a proof of one of the pages and helping the girl because we have no clue what he's really giving up. Once again, we know far less about the Engineer's phone calls in The Wind Will Carry Us but Kiarostami is crystal clear in that film about establishing the only thing that matters -- that the calls are very important to the Engineer.
I think we could stand to know a bit more about the girl too.
[Reveal] Spoiler:
All we really know about her is that she's a student moonlighting as a prostitute, who's been doing it for a while (the old pictures on the cards), and is to some degree ashamed of it (won't visit with grandma + hiding the truth from her angry jealous boyfriend). We don't know if she actively wants to get out of this life or sees the professor as a way out. We don't really understand their connection at all, especially from her point of view.
I'm sure there's a way to balance just a little more carefully calibrated knowledge of the main characters' needs/intentions/stakes with the kind of subtlety that Kiarostami's known for because he's done it so many times before.
FerdinandGriffon wrote:
I do think it's considerably weaker as a film about Japan, and especially as about prostitution in Japan. The subject is introduced and depicted in a way that seems, not incorrect, but alien, and overly familiar from other outsiders' cinematic takes on the country, giving justification to Straub's criticism of Kiarostami as a "tourist". This is part of the reason that I think there's an element of auto-critique in the depiction of the professor, a metafictional acknowledgment that the director's film might have failings as an objective, realist, document.
Kiarostami definitely does strike me as a tourist in this film -- much more so than he does in Certified Copy.

FerdinandGriffon wrote:
Neither Clouzot or Friedkin are total auteurs in the way that Kiarostami or hundreds of other directors are. That isn't to say that they're lesser filmmakers, just that they are more adaptable, in both senses of the word. There's a reason that the remake of Breathless is such a punchline in some circles, and it's not because of any qualitative judgement of the end results. It's just that the original film is so ferociously idiosyncratic that any attempt at a remake is doomed to either drastically reimagine the narrative or hollowly ape it, making the relationship between the two films tenuous at best and derivative at worst. The day someone does a faithful, not-awful American remake of Close-Up I'll eat my posts.
I don't even know where to start with these assertions. Clouzot and Friedkin are only good at telling stories because they are somehow not, in your estimation, "total" autuers? Or because some of their work is in some way remakable? I suppose that would exclude Hitchcock (remade himself and ripped off by countless others interestingly and not, notably De Palma) and Kurosawa (remakes of a number of his films are in the works; Ransom in a way is a remake of High and Low which is itself being remade). What about Shakespeare? Is W.S. not a "total" writer because his work has been so adapted and adaptable over the years? Anyway, this stuff seems equally daft and off-topic.

Close-Up is a very particular film but you're missing my point about the narrative strength and drive that it and other Kiarostami films have if you insist that it's impossible to remake something like it. If a similar story had happened in America or say in the U.K. with somebody pretending to be, I don't know, Kubrick, it would already be a movie. Not that it would be a good one. :)


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2013 3:05 pm 
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YnEoS wrote:
Like, FerdinandGriffon, I don't think all these questions are necessarily essential to the film's narrative. To take for example the issue of the Professor's book project. I don't think we need to know specifically what it is, we can gauge how important it is by his reaction to it. Furthermore, I don't think human brain works in such a simplistic cost-benefit analysis sort of way where some trivial responsibility is so easily discarded. Even if the course of action is obvious, these little responsibilities are taxing on the brain, and I think that's what's trying to be conveyed. The scene works, not because there are these grave events that are weighing upon his conscience. It's more about how even in this safe secluded life, the outside world pours in through many outlets and each of these tasks take their toll on him. Watching him run about his apartment trying to sort everything out, only to have even more severe issues erupt at his door is one of the most terrifying things I've ever watched. It's about the lack of time and the constant push and pull as the various aspects of his life seize upon him with complete indifference to his situation. The price of this isolated city life, is that people also act upon him, and make demands of him without the embodied understanding that comes with physical human interaction.
I was just looking at the ending of Kiarostami's The Report again and everything you're saying about the professor juggling responsibilities applies to the protagonist of that film too, only more so. And I'd argue it's more effective because it's better set up. Since we have no baseline for the professor's normal home alone behavior, we can't see the contrast to what it's like in a crisis.

It's not about a cost-benefit analysis for me wrt to the publisher's phone call. It doesn't have to be something super dramatic or obvious. What I need from the phone call device is some kind of clarity about how much it matters to the professor. If it's not supposed to matter that much, then why is he able to blow off other erstwhile distractions like his neighbor with relative ease? And yet if it matters a lot, wouldn't it be more effective if it were set up better before
[Reveal] Spoiler:
Just like the Engineer's much more mysterious but much more clearly set up and dramatized phone calls in TWWCU.

I guess I'm just having a lot of trouble reading the professor as some paragon of urban alienation. I don't see how his situation is especially story worthy in that regard, either because it's uniquely isolated or because it's so typically universally alienated.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2013 3:48 pm 
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Having far less personal reference points in Kiarostami's filmography, I can't really argue with how much better he does similar things in his other films. Perhaps after I've seen more, I'll consider Like Someone in Love to be a more minor work. All I can say for now is that it managed to hit me quite viscerally and emotionally.

I agree that Kiarostami has a very strong handle of narrative principles. But I think your definition of a strong narrative has a lot of requirements carried with it that undercuts the value of slight narratives. I think in Five Kiarostami demonstrates he can work on the most minimal of narrative levels to great effect. Perhaps Like Someone in Love doesn't tap all the narrative potential it has, it's not something I can really speak with any sort of authority on. All I can say is that for me any sort of narrative principles that were missing didn't stand out for me as detrimental to all the ones that, I think, are rather beautifully and adeptly employed in the film.

Also, I'm not sure how well Mamet's question of "why today?" has much weight as an evaluation of a film. Every film could possibly have thousands of answers from much more obvious to the more minute and subtle. And I think the ending to Like Someone in Love pretty bluntly shows why this day is different than other days. I always thought this question was more of a though exercise for filmmakers to try and figure out what is essential and unique to the story they're telling.


Last edited by YnEoS on Fri Feb 22, 2013 3:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2013 3:50 pm 
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warren oates wrote:
Kiarostami's telling a story. About characters he wants us to care about. And regardless of what you assume about how and where I've learned about narrative, Kiarostami seems to have a pretty deep and intuitive understanding of the timeless principles (not rules!) of human storytelling, which he's been refining throughout his career.


Principles! Rules are not eternal, they are not timeless, they have history, they can be broken. But principles! If you want to dehistoricize the way that narrative forms have developed over thousands of years, if you want to insist that any fundamental and inflexible scriptures of storytelling have been passed down to us by our forefathers, if you want to throw out any of the hundreds of masterpieces that subvert or thoroughly ignore (AKA betray) these "principles", then you can insist that they exist. But I don't believe they do. The "rules" of each work of art are unique to itself, at least in their combination and relationship to each other. They exist in order to be broken or not broken meaningfully, not in order to straightjacket. Kiarostami often adopts some of the more familiar rules of narrative or genre films (as you've pointed out), but he's not duty bound to hold by any of them, and often doesn't (as Zedz and others have pointed out). What makes you believe that Kiarostami has signed a contract with his audience agreeing to make consistently sympathetic and comprehendible characters, instead of teasing us with the possibility of identification and understanding, as I believe he does so well in this film?

warren oates wrote:
Let me ask you this: Why is Like Someone In Love intentionally calibrated to let the audience know the most about the least important character? We're never in doubt about what the boyfriend wants, what the stakes are for him or why he ends up doing anything he does. How does withholding similar dramatic information about the girl and the professor make the film so much stronger and more successful as art than it would otherwise be?


I don't think we have any more empirical information about the boyfriend than any of the other characters. Is he just insanely jealous? I'm not certain. We're given reason to suspect that, in addition to having an obviously violent temper, he's being deceived in a more than ordinary way by his girlfriend, or, indeed, by the professor. He could be throwing stones because he's discovered something monstrous about the relationship between the professor and the girl. We can't be sure. What is important, though, is that there is the potential, in an apparently banal scenario, for something much more obviously complicated, destructive, and far-reaching, and that the potential is there because of the way a particular society and modern urban life in general is organized.

warren oates wrote:
One of the best city films ever, huh? As good as Wings of Desire or Lonesome or Taxi Driver or even Kiarostami's own Ten?


Uh, yes? I mean, it's totally subjective, of course, but I like this film as much or better than I do all of those, except Ten, which I haven't seen.

warren oates wrote:
What is it specifically about the professor's glass apartment or his ability to dial-up a prostitute that distinguishes him from millions of others in the same city? Or conversely that makes him particularly exemplary when it comes to the loneliness and alienation of so many of his contemporaries?


Well, nothing really. But since neo-realism (or Emmanuel Bove, or any of the other great narrative artists who focus on the ordinary) we've known that it isn't necessary to have extra-ordinary figures at the center of our fictions, or even extraordinary actions. However, at the same time I think I've already gone into several of the particulars about why a translator with an apartment with that geography has metaphorical dimensions that Kiarostami is delineating.

I have to run but I would like to respond to the rest of your comments later.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2013 4:06 pm 
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Quote:
What makes you believe that Kiarostami has signed a contract with his audience agreeing to make consistently sympathetic and comprehendible characters, instead of teasing us with the possibility of identification and understanding, as I believe he does so well in this film?
Idk, because he's pretty much successfully done all of those things put together in each new fiction film for decades now up until this one?

You know, I get this sense whenever there are heated discussions about the narrative qualities of certain art films on the board that claiming anything innocous like "In a story it's good to set up various details (of the plot, the setting and the characters) so that they can pay off later" is tantamount to endorsing the rigid strictures of some specific hacky screenwriting book. I mean, have you ever tried to tell anyone a joke? Or just recount the crazy thing that happened to you on the way to work? How about putting down a narrative (fiction or non-fiction) in any medium? Have you totally successfully eschewed the timeless principle of set up/pay off or whatever you want to call it? If so, what the heck are you doing hanging out here with the rest of us mere mortals? Why don't you publish immediately and shatter the chains that have bound us for millennia?


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2013 4:16 pm 
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Not all movies are trying to tell stories. Some are more concerned with conveying a certain atmosphere, with pushing you to think in a different way, or with focusing on the visual element. Films like this can be entirely successful despite breaking every so-called rule of storytelling. (I haven't seen LSIL yet, those are just my two cents.)


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2013 4:20 pm 
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To swo17: if you'll go back a few pages you'll see I've pre-agreed with you vis-a-vis any number of other films. No argument from me there. The argument is all about this specific narrative film, which, like so many other Kiarostami films -- no matter what else they are up to -- aspires to tell a story. And, once again, if you're doing anything less than skimming my posts you'll seem I'm not advocating hard and fast rules, but attempting to discuss the general principles of narrative Kiarostami's been playing with his whole career.

YnEoS wrote:
Also, I'm not sure how well Mamet's question of "why today?" has much weight as an evaluation of a film. Every film could possibly have thousands of answers from much more obvious to the more minute and subtle. And I think the ending to Like Someone in Love pretty bluntly shows why this day is different than other days. I always thought this question was more of a though exercise for filmmakers to try and figure out what is essential and unique to the story they're telling.
You'll have to say more about this. If the Mamet quotation is, as you say, "a thought exercise for filmmakers to try and figure out what is essential and unique to the story they are telling" how it's not relevant to a discussion of any film, including this one, escapes me. Indeed, this is exactly why I brought it up. Because for me, Kiarostami's other more successful films all address this question clearly because, on the level of narrative, they are clear about what's unique and essential.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2013 4:26 pm 
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I'm not going to do anything more than skim posts here until I've actually seen the film! Though I would add that just because something dresses itself up as a narrative film, that doesn't necessarily mean that simply telling a story is anywhere near the top of its list of concerns.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2013 4:29 pm 
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Bounding off of Swo who I am in the same spot as if the intention of the film is as Zedz suggests than it should not be unique or essential in any narrative way.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2013 4:52 pm 
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Okay then, if swo and knives are going to insist on disagreeing with me in general not having seen this specific film or really read my previous posts: How about examples from other Kiarostami films you have seen where the storytelling only seemed sloppy because he had much higher concerns going on? Bear in mind, since you're jumping in and skimming, etc., that I ask this as a huge admirer of just about every other film of his I've seen. And it's been my prime contention since the beginning of this thread that Kiarostami has always been interested in and very adept at storytelling -- regardless of his other cinematic interests in any given film. So not just examples of choices he made that had nothing to do with narrative. But of choices that deliberately seemed to sabotage the narrative only to offer us something much more interesting on a purely non-narrative level. And I don't mean visual strategies or digressions. Show me how Kiarostami, master filmmaker and storyteller I assert that he is, merely "dressed up" any of his other films as narratives.

I guess I should also add that I can't agree with swo's idea that somehow telling a good story well is "simple" (by which he seems to imply something more like "simplistic" or "easy"). Or that in so doing you wouldn't also augment the effectiveness of all your other concerns -- with thematics, visuals, etc. Isn't that, after all, the eternal challenge of narrative filmmaking? To tell a good story well in such a way that the film isn't only about the story? Otherwise why not make a non-narrative/experimental work?


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2013 5:06 pm 
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When I said "simply" I could have also said "just," i.e. the director is not concerned with much more than telling a story. I didn't mean to imply that that makes the story being told a simple one, or that storytelling is inherently a simple task, etc.

As for examples of narrative sabotage, I dunno, too much of Close-up takes place in a courtroom? No one gets out of their cars in Ten? No one talks in Shirin? A non-Kiarostami film that comes to mind is Two-Lane Blacktop, a film that you starred in. That one does a terrible job of telling a story ("Ah, forget about the race--who wants hard-boiled eggs?") but that's not what that movie is about.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2013 5:10 pm 
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Hell the climax of Close-Up is absolute inconclusive sabotage on the most delightful level. The film is built up for the lamest anti-climax ever and in my opinion that motorcycle ride is all the better for it.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2013 5:20 pm 
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warren oates wrote:
You'll have to say more about this. If the Mamet quotation is, as you say, "a thought exercise for filmmakers to try and figure out what is essential and unique to the story they are telling" how it's not relevant to a discussion of any film, including this one, escapes me. Indeed, this is exactly why I brought it up. Because for me, Kiarostami's other more successful films all address this question clearly because, on the level of narrative, they are clear about what's unique and essential.

It just seems to me that any story could have potentially unlimited answers to this question. It could be quite useful for a filmmaker to try and figure out what is so essential about the story they're trying to tell when they are making it. I'm just deeply skeptical about the viewer's ability to reverse engineer this process as a criteria of how good or bad the story is. Because of the fact this story is different from every other story ever told, you could find potentially infinite things about it that makes it unique, and these traits will have different amounts of significance to each viewer.

My problem with the way you're employing it in this debate. Is I feel I and others have spelled out what specifically about this story makes it unique and essential from other films to us. You clearly have had a different experience and feel that these traits are not terrible unique or clear. To me this doesn't really seem like something that can be reconciled in debate, as it's so steeped in our own personal experiences with narratives and what we consider to be unique.

warren oates wrote:
Idk, because he's pretty much successfully done all of those things put together in each new fiction film for decades now up until this one?

You know, I get this sense whenever there are heated discussions about the narrative qualities of certain art films on the board that claiming anything innocous like "In a story it's good to set up various details (of the plot, the setting and the characters) so that they can pay off later" is tantamount to endorsing the rigid strictures of some specific hacky screenwriting book. I mean, have you ever tried to tell anyone a joke? Or just recount the crazy thing that happened to you on the way to work? How about putting down a narrative (fiction or non-fiction) in any medium? Have you totally successfully eschewed the timeless principle of set up/pay off or whatever you want to call it? If so, what the heck are you doing hanging out here with the rest of us mere mortals? Why don't you publish immediately and shatter the chains that have bound us for millennia?

Personally I don't agree with the way some others have characterized your method of narrative analysis. I'm personally quite interested in recent cognitive film theory explanations of how narrative functions.

I'm all for having a hard analytical look at narratives, and I think we would agree on a lot of points of what a good narrative is. But your viewpoint still comes across to me as a tad too rigid in certain areas. And from my personal viewpoint it seems like recently a lot of great films have been testing how minimally narrative can be reduced to find out what is essential to narrative and how an audience can be riveted by the tiniest of minutia.

I've found our discussion of Like Someone in Love to be highly informative and engaging. But at the end of the day, the emotions I've felt watching it prohibit me from ever fully agreeing with you, because simply, the film worked for me. Though I will definitely take what you say into account the next time I watch the film, and as I watch other Kiarostami films.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2013 6:13 pm 
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YnEoS wrote:
It could be quite useful for a filmmaker to try and figure out what is so essential about the story they're trying to tell when they are making it.
But not useful for the audience or a critic or scholar to figure that out while they are watching it or afterwards?
YnEoS wrote:
I'm just deeply skeptical about the viewer's ability to reverse engineer this process as a criteria of how good or bad the story is. Because of the fact this story is different from every other story ever told, you could find potentially infinite things about it that makes it unique, and these traits will have different amounts of significance to each viewer.
This is another thing that tends to come up when I get deeper into discussions of films I've had trouble with. You're almost seeming to imply that every work of art is a snowflake and therefore beyond meaningful criticism. If we're going to talk about what the film's actually trying to do and how successful it is at that -- on the level of narrative or anything else -- I don't see how we can do it without interrogating it thus. All criticism, all interpretation is some form of this reverse engineering (whether it's concerned with narrative or any other qualities of the work).

Swo: sorry for misunderstanding your idea of "simple." But none of the films you or knives mention are what I'm after, except perhaps Shirin though it's much more obviously experimental from the get go, and you'll see I've already mentioned it above if you ever go back through the thread.

About Close-Up: There are any number of much more conventional American court room dramas that could refute your point about the employment of, say, contained thriller space restrictions in the film, which in any case aren't the only setting. Close-Up -- again regardless of the many other fascinating things its doing -- is most certainly telling a compelling story. The choice to set any reenactments in the courtroom anyway strikes me as more about establishing versimilitude in order to further sell the narrative -- a decision that's very much at the service of the storytelling (whatever else it also does for the film). And, knives, the ending of Close-Up as anticlimatic? I've never heard that one before.

Sure, the narrative in Ten is more minimal, but it's all about the essential restrictions of the space and the digressions that happen in the course of being stuck in that car over one afternoon. Given those restrictions, it's a pretty great traffic jam road movie about a mother and child. I don't see how telling this specific story would have been made either easier for Kiarsostami or more effective without the extreme commitment to that single location that creates the very situation he's recounting. It's the same in Taste of Cherry.

Two-Lane Blacktop tells a pretty engaging story, too, I think (I should know!). I imagine you're bringing it up because it's a road movie full of digressions, where the digressions become the story. Not unlike Ten, Taste of Cherry or to some degree The Wind Will Carry Us. Still very comfortably in the realm of narrative. But I'd say that even though it seems to jettison its original narrative drive -- the race -- that the interactions we get instead -- where characters still clearly want various things from each other -- certainly affect the characters, as well as offering the audience a chance to see them meaningfully changing (or not) over time.
[Reveal] Spoiler:
Though the metacinematic ending is less interesting to me than Taste of Cherry's.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2013 7:01 pm 
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warren -- I (and everyone else here) get the point that you were disappointed by the film and didn't much like it. What I do NOT understand is the intensity of your desire to convince others that they should similarly dismiss the film -- and are benighted somehow if they are unpersuaded by your position. Why are you so bothered by the fact that others have responded positively to the film -- and want to share their reasons for finding it worthwhile?


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2013 7:05 pm 
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warren oates wrote:
But not useful for the audience or a critic or scholar to figure that out while they are watching it or afterwards?


Not saying it isn't useful, just saying I don't think the ultimate be all end all of watching a film is to decode it back into the author's original intention to make sure he did everything properly.

warren oates wrote:
This is another thing that tends to come up when I get deeper into discussions of films I've had trouble with. You're almost seeming to imply that every work of art is a snowflake and therefore beyond meaningful criticism. If we're going to talk about what the film's actually trying to do and how successful it is at that -- on the level of narrative or anything else -- I don't see how we can do it without interrogating it thus. All criticism, all interpretation is some form of this reverse engineering (whether it's concerned with narrative or any other qualities of the work).


This is kind of amusing, cause you're putting me on the side of the debate I'm usually arguing against. I'm having trouble figuring out how to articulate my position properly without posting some huge essay on my theories of narrative.

A quick runthrough. I think film is inter-subjective, so it is analyzable and studyable and narrative form has weight, but it's also infinitely flexible and works differently on different audiences.

To use your metaphor of Joke telling for filmmaking as an example. There's definitely a strategy and anatomy to Joke telling, and a good Joke can probably make millions of different people from lot's of different backgrounds laugh. But certain jokes are meant for specific audiences, and don't translate so universally. Also my favorite joke might have very limited appeal to different people. And even the best constructed joke can be influenced by millions of other factors like delivery, what the audience thinks of the comedian, what they just sat through beforehand etc. I think it's useful and productive to deconstruct jokes and see how they work, but ultimately it is the job of the deconstruction to account for people's opinions not the other way around. If someone find's a joke funny, no amount of theory is going to convince them otherwise. Which isn't to say that there opinion 100% validates the joke beyond criticism, but just that you have to take into account that the joke is capable of having that impact on someone. When deconstructing a joke and seeing how it works you must always be aware of your own biases and experiences and how they affect your enjoyment of said joke.

Hope that clarifies my position. Maybe someone else can explain it more elegantly than my ramblings.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2013 7:14 pm 
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Michael Kerpan wrote:
warren -- I (and everyone else here) get the point that you were disappointed by the film and didn't much like it. What I do NOT understand is the intensity of your desire to convince others that they should similarly dismiss the film -- and are benighted somehow if they are unpersuaded by your position. Why are you so bothered by the fact that others have responded positively to the film -- and want to share their reasons for finding it worthwhile?
I'm neither bothered, nor trying to convince or dismiss. I'm actually looking forward to you and everybody else who wants in on this getting a chance to see the film and posting. I'll have to assume at this point that you are skimming, too, because you haven't seen it? What I am is very much interested in hearing a defense of the specific storytelling choices in this film and how they worked or didn't for everyone. So far I've heard largely about certain themes and other stuff about the high quality of the direction that I'm already predisposed to agree with -- so that stuff doesn't interest me as much. Though I do very much appreciate YnEoS and Ferdinand's engagement on the narrative issues.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2013 7:20 pm 
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I never worry about spoilers -- so I've been reading the whole exchange. It will have to tide me over until the film shows up (hopefully eventually at the MFA).

I really do have to say that you seem WAY too hung up over "specific storytelling choices" -- not an element of Kiarostami's (or most other peoples') films that is of primary interest to me.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2013 7:45 pm 
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Michael Kerpan wrote:
I really do have to say that you seem WAY too hung up over "specific storytelling choices" -- not an element of Kiarostami's (or most other peoples') films that is of primary interest to me.
Well since this isn't a Stan Brakhage film or even something like Shirin or Five, since Kiarostami himself on countless occasions has espoused his interest in narratives/storytelling etc. (again, in addition to all the many other aspects of his films that make his work worthwhile and interesting), I guess I'm at a loss to see how a critique of this film based on a close consideration of the way the narrative works bothers you. And if we ought not to talk about specific choices -- with regard to how the narrative or any other level of the film works -- what's left?

A large part of it for me is that, when a narrative film's narrative feels like it's really working -- however arty or minimal -- it's often the last thing I feel like discussing in depth. (Sort of like the consistently strong direction and staging in this film.) Some posters above made claims that the film has thematic and other agendas that it's holding far above the story, but I've yet to hear how most of what I consider weaknesses in the writing become essential strengths on these other levels. Or how, for instance, some changes to the conception of the story would be at odds with those other intentions.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2013 8:03 pm 
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A "close consideration of the way the narrative works"doesn't bother me in the least -- I just don't see it as the be-all and end-all you are making it out to be.

Other people are not trying to argue you out of your dislike of the film, they are telling you what they valued (and why they DID like it). Liking or disliking a film depends on all sorts of things (many of which are totally intangible). Speaking for myself, I can say that there is no way on earth anyone could ever argue me into liking (or not liking) a film. I may eventually change my mind (but usually not) and something somebody said may have some impact -- but this is usually a very slow process.

And I _try_ never to argue people into disliking a film they initially thought they liked. ;~}


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PostPosted: Sun Feb 24, 2013 5:25 pm 
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So warren, you were really that bothered by not finding out what book the professor was writing?

I know how you feel. I sat through the entirety of The Taste of Cherry wondering where Mr. Baadi buys his socks. WHY DID KIAROSTAMI NOT ANSWER THIS CRUCIAL NARRATIVE QUESTION???!!!

Seriously, almost all of the questions that were troubling you about this film would never have occurred to me in a million years. About this or any other Kiarostami film. We find out as much as we need to about the characters, there are lots of bits left out, and we have to draw our own conclusions. That, to me, pretty much seems to be Kiarostami's fundamental mode with characterization. I'd be sorely disappointed if he started filling in all the blanks this late in his career.


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PostPosted: Sun Feb 24, 2013 6:33 pm 

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All spoilers below.

[Reveal] Spoiler:
"What I am is very much interested in hearing a defense of the specific storytelling choices in this film and how they worked or didn't for everyone."

Just saw this last night and it's very fresh in my head, so I'll try:

The very first narrative choice is in the opening scene, how much we're going to learn about the pimp-figure. Is he a nasty "heavy" concealing his meanness with an avuncular attitude, or actually a kind employer? Answer: not sure. Result: Satisfying, because this central ambiguity colors every other judgment that will follow.

#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.

#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.

#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.)

(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.)

#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.

#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.

#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.


So based on all those choices, which IMHO are mostly the right ones, and, if anything, not mysterious enough, I give Kiarostami high grades for taking a very ordinary, slight story, and breathing some subtlety, detail, and beauty into it. Is it a major movie? No. But a very satisfying one.


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PostPosted: Sun Feb 24, 2013 6:50 pm 
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I'm really interested in what AlanSChin has posted and would like to respond to some of his points in more detail. I won't be able to for another couple hours, so I'll post my reply to zedz here first.

zedz wrote:
We find out as much as we need to about the characters, there are lots of bits left out, and we have to draw our own conclusions. That, to me, pretty much seems to be Kiarostami's fundamental mode with characterization. I'd be sorely disappointed if he started filling in all the blanks this late in his career.
That's precisely what I've been questioning all this time. That Kiarostami's fundamental mode of characterization -- the sort that tells us in minimal and mysterious yet never vague or muddled terms all we ever need to know about Mr. Badii in Taste of Cherry or the Engineer in The Wind Will Carry Us or the couple in Certified Copy -- doesn't seem to be working so well in this new film, especially when it comes to the girl or the professor. In many ways, we learn more little details of their outer lives than we do about other previous Kiarostami characters, but have less to go on when it comes to their interior lives and what may or may not constitute their central dramatic problem(s).

The film is clear on some things about the girl that don't end up mattering all that much. And on other things that don't matter much after that initial 20 minutes or so we spend with her alone at the beginning. I'm not sure how the whole rest of what happens in the film deepens our understanding of her or our feelings for her. At the end of the film I didn't have any more empathy for her than I had during that moment of circling the grandma -- which was quite moving. If we knew just a little bit more about her own feelings about her relationship with her boyfriend, for instance. Something other than that he's jealous and angry, the one point the film sets up pretty well from the first moment. What are her hopes for the future with him? Or how wary of his temper is she really? Or what about her feelings about her prostitution work besides her general shame at it. We know she's been doing it for a while. We don't know if she's really sick of it and trying to get out of it or just having a bad night. We don't know what if any feelings she has toward the professor. It's hard to know what's at stake for her in the film at all beyond keeping her prostitution job secret and then, at the end, fleeing the boyfriend. But those are the things she's seen to want to do in the first few minutes of the film and the rest of the duration doesn't elaborate on those desires and intentions on her part in ways that illuminate or move us more.

We learn plenty of details about the professor's life, but not much that helps us understand the later (and final) events of the film or that deepen our feelings for him. Others have already said they were moved by the portrait of his alienation. Me too. Just not substantially beyond what I already felt for him after meeting him for a couple of minutes. The excellent direction and strong acting did their job making me like him and care about him. I'm arguing that the writing didn't go anywhere interesting with that strong identification. Since Ferdinand and others above have invoked Neorealism I'll say it would be like watching all of Umberto D. only to have it end
[Reveal] Spoiler:
when the protagonist and his dog get run over by a street car in a random accident completely unrelated to his personal despair.

The professor's clearly gone to some effort to have this girl over, appealing to a former student of his, perhaps even deliberately selecting someone who either looks like
[Reveal] Spoiler:
his daughter or his wife.
But these bits of information don't go anywhere interesting either, narratively or thematically.

Another way of reframing what I'm asking is to return to the idea of the David Mamet's Passover question: What makes this day different from all other days? (Why start the story here, now, with these particular characters?
[Reveal] Spoiler:
Is it really just the day the boyfriend goes nutso? Shouldn't he be the protagonist then, instead of just the deus ex machina antagonist?
How is the specific choice of the ending reinforcing the careful structure of the whole piece, dramatically and thematically, etc.? Which is also to ask: Who are the main characters of this film? What are their problems? What do they want? What are they trying to do or to get? How do they end up getting or not getting what they are after in the end? These are questions that Kiarostami usually posits pretty lucidly in his other films, and the answers he ultimately offers up or complicates or refuses us still provide a clear connection to the film's beginning, to the main character(s) central problem(s) and an illumination of their whole journey.

You could come at this from the angle of thematics, too. If this is a film about alienation, how are all of Kiarostami's precise choices working to that end? Why are these particular characters in their current interactions the right ones to convey this theme and how does each of their personal dilemmas interact to produce the ideal ending? Or take the same route with another idea that's been broached above, that the film is something of a cousin to Kieslowski in terms of its interests in fate, in the chance encounters and collisions of urban life.

I've tried working through many of these ideas with respect to the characters of the girl and the professor and I haven't had much luck, which I've been arguing is a reflection of how underbaked the script is in its present form. Some of the ideas may be there incohate, but this time Kiarostami's usually deft judgment for parceling out exactly the right bit of minimal mysterious character backstory/motivation isn't supporting them.

zedz wrote:
So warren, you were really that bothered by not finding out what book the professor was writing?
It's not what that book is about in any particular detail, it's how much the book mattered or didn't to him, how much he was merely distracted like some above have claimed by his publisher's questions about it or was he actively giving up something of real importance to go and try and help the girl instead? The film makes an issue of the book, but it's just one instance in which I'd say the film is maybe trying to pay off something that hasn't really been set up. Or showing us the effect of an invisible, inscrutable cause in a manner that, structurally, can't move us the way it wishes to. Like I've said, a good example of this kind of thing working well in another Kiarostami film are the Engineer's phone calls in The Wind Will Carry Us. We never really understand what they are about, but we're also never uncertain about how important they are to him. A simple technique for preserving the mystery while establishing relative dramatic importance in the case of TWWCU was to show us the Engineer reacting to the calls.
[Reveal] Spoiler:
Because he doesn't indicate in dialogue how important they are to him, the reason we can still know this is because he makes a big panicked show of driving/running to the hill to take them -- and, crucially, he does this more than once, so we can be sure that we have the right idea. Contrast that with the professor's single call about a book that's never before been mentioned.


Last edited by warren oates on Mon Feb 25, 2013 3:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 2:58 pm 
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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.


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