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PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 3:22 pm 
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Good lord warren, don't you get it? The problem is that you keep posing your question as variations of: "Will those people who really like the film explain to me why it's so badly written? Why would Kiarostami deliberately write a film badly???!!!"

Believe it or not, the people who really like the film and find it subtle and intriguing don't agree that it's badly written. And they've gone into lots of detail as to why they think the film's narrative choices were made. And yet you keep asserting this 'badly written' judgement as if it's some objective truth. All you've offered as proof for the supposedly terrible writing is that 1) you didn't like it (and more specifically that it didn't answer a barrage of nitpicky questions about the characters' back-stories) and 2) it doesn't conform to the rules laid down by Robert McKee and David Mamet. Well, thank heavens for that!

You're either belabouring the irrelevant or ignoring the obvious. Let me count the ways:

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Kiarostami's fundamental mode of characterization [. . .] doesn't seem to be working so well in this new film

Actually, we're all pretty fine with it, thanks, so you don't need to express this as some kind of pseudo-objective divine pronouncement.

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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.

Good grief! Isn't that enough? She's in a dangerous domestic situation which gets more dangerous as the film progresses. Would it satisfy you more if you knew that her older sister has been (sob) killed be a violent pimp, or that the rock that comes through the window at the end was a special gift from her real grandfather, given to her on his deathbed when she was only fourteen, and only after she made a solemn promise not to fuck any other old men? Your fantasy version of this film sounds the flattest, dullest thing imaginable, and would make for a bad script. The ambiguities in the film are subtle and they're what animates the entire thing - which is basically the same for all of Kiarostami's fiction films.

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The excellent direction and strong acting did their job making me like him and care about him.
Well, this at least is telling. If 'characters you care about' is essential for you, then I could compile a long list of films that you should avoid like the plague. In fact I've got one pretty much prepared already that I'm going to submit for the next round of the 60s List.

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I'm arguing that the writing didn't go anywhere interesting with that strong identification.

No, you're asserting that the writing didn't go anywhere interesting with it. Plenty of people here disagree.

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What makes this day different from all other days? (Why start the story here, now, with these particular characters?

You're really being deliberately obtuse here. It's the day when the girl's precarious lifestyle comes crashing down around her. It's sort of the entire point of the film and provides the explosive climax. We see it already happen in miniature near the start when her lifestyle (and her shame about it) forces her to betray her grandmother, then the risks gets steadily higher, the shakiness builds to crisis point with every little lie, and then it explodes in violence. Maybe if you'd been less obsessed about what book the old man was writing, or what grades the girl got in her studies, or whatever other irrelevant business was distracting you, this might have sunk in.

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How is the specific choice of the ending reinforcing the careful structure of the whole piece, dramatically and thematically, etc.?

See above. And above. And above. See the film, even.

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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?

As far as I know, Like Someone in Love is not a graduate of the Sundance Screenwriters Lab.

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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.

I am very glad that I have never seen any of these alleged Kiarostami films. The ones I've seen are all richly ambiguous about character motivations (The Wind Will Carry Us, anybody?) and leave us to make up our own minds about what motivates and rewards the characters.

I could go on, but I resign. Wake me up when some fruitful discussion about the film is occurring. Just throw a rock through my window.


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 5:49 pm 
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zedz wrote:
Believe it or not, the people who really like the film and find it subtle and intriguing don't agree that it's badly written. And they've gone into lots of detail as to why they think the film's narrative choices were made. And yet you keep asserting this 'badly written' judgement as if it's some objective truth. All you've offered as proof for the supposedly terrible writing is that 1) you didn't like it (and more specifically that it didn't answer a barrage of nitpicky questions about the characters' back-stories) and 2) it doesn't conform to the rules laid down by Robert McKee and David Mamet. Well, thank heavens for that!

I certainly respect the responses of you and others who enjoy the film more, some of whom also didn't find its narrative construction lacking, some of whom seemed to like it in spite of agreeing in part with a few of the issues I've raised, because they value what it does on other levels -- like the thematics, for example.

I've borrowed one idea from Mamet that I find useful in assessing all sorts of narratives. I guess I see how turning me into a straw man for a distasteful brand of systematic storytelling hackery makes it easier to dismiss my concerns with how Like Someone In Love, for instance, utilizes cause and effect in its construction. But others have disagreed with me above in more detail and I'd say more fruitfully without resorting to that kind of thing. It's weird to feel like I'm being branded as some sort of defender of Hollywood cliche because I'm saying that Kiarostami has been a great storyteller for decades and that I find the story of this new one problematic.

zedz wrote:
Quote:
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.
Good grief! Isn't that enough? She's in a dangerous domestic situation which gets more dangerous as the film progresses. Would it satisfy you more if you knew that her older sister has been (sob) killed be a violent pimp, or that the rock that comes through the window at the end was a special gift from her real grandfather, given to her on his deathbed when she was only fourteen, and only after she made a solemn promise not to fuck any other old men? Your fantasy version of this film sounds the flattest, dullest thing imaginable, and would make for a bad script. The ambiguities in the film are subtle and they're what animates the entire thing - which is basically the same for all of Kiarostami's fiction films.

It's feeling very straw man here again. There are no absolute rules of storytelling I'm stuck on. No call for the obvious that I'm espousing. What I'd like to know from Kiarostami is to let us in on what the girlfriend's problem is just a little bit more, how she feels about it and what she's trying to do to deal with it. We know she's ashamed about her job, but not whether she actively wants out. Likewise with keeping her work a secret from the boyfriend or with the status of their relationship as such. And even though she is shown to be concerned about keeping her job a secret she's pretty passive in pursuit of this end too.

zedz wrote:
Quote:
The excellent direction and strong acting did their job making me like him and care about him.
Well, this at least is telling. If 'characters you care about' is essential for you, then I could compile a long list of films that you should avoid like the plague. In fact I've got one pretty much prepared already that I'm going to submit for the next round of the 60s List.
We usually end up liking most Kiarostami characters. But from my point of view liking is neither necessary nor sufficient for us to care about or engage with any character. If a character has a goal and is trying to do something, to pursue it with any kind of intensity or ingenuity, I'll eagerly follow along. (Even with Norman Bates disposing that body in Psycho! Or with Mr. Badii's mysterious drive in Taste of Cherry or the Engineer's secret purpose -- and many digressions -- in the village in The Wind Will Carry Us.) Which is why it's possible to become completely caught up in the endeavors of a fictional person we might otherwise dislike.

zedz wrote:
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i'm arguing that the writing didn't go anywhere interesting with that strong identification.
No, you're asserting that the writing didn't go anywhere interesting with it. Plenty of people here disagree.
I certainly respect the detailed disagreements others have posted. If my attempts to argue otherwise here haven't persuaded you that they are even valid arguments, I'm sorry.

zedz wrote:
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What makes this day different from all other days? (Why start the story here, now, with these particular characters?
You're really being deliberately obtuse here. It's the day when the girl's precarious lifestyle comes crashing down around her. It's sort of the entire point of the film and provides the explosive climax. We see it already happen in miniature near the start when her lifestyle (and her shame about it) forces her to betray her grandmother, then the risks gets steadily higher, the shakiness builds to crisis point with every little lie, and then it explodes in violence.
Describing it this way minimizes the importance of the professor to the whole of the film and of the girl's agency too. If the film is chiefly about the girl's life crashing down upon her why have it end by most visibly impacting a virtual stranger with an entirely ambiguous relationship and tenuous connection to her?

For me the clearest answer to the Passover question in Like Someone In Love as it is now is
[Reveal] Spoiler:
"Because it's the day the boyfriend goes crazy." Which is a sufficiently different focus from "The day the girl's facade comes crashing down" or "The day the professor's (first and only?) foray into (chaste?) surrogate daughter prostitution horribly backfires." The boyfriend seems like the one dictating the narrative's end and his volatility is well established enough that you can imagine this sort of thing erupting out of him on any given day. For me, the choices we get to see and understand from the girl's and the professor's perspective don't set up their collision with him as especially interesting or meaningful. From their perspective he might as well be a piano that falls on them out of the blue. If it has any, the present ending's inevitability strikes me as being all about the boyfriend.


zedz wrote:
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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.
I am very glad that I have never seen any of these alleged Kiarostami films. The ones I've seen are all richly ambiguous about character motivations (The Wind Will Carry Us, anybody?) and leave us to make up our own minds about what motivates and rewards the characters.
So because we disagree about this new film we can't even both enjoy The Wind Will Carry Us for similar reasons?
[Reveal] Spoiler:
The central question of The Wind Will Carry Us for me, as I've mentioned above, is "Why has the Engineer come to the village?" The way that this gets answered (or doesn't) is richly ambiguous. But I wouldn't say that I'm ever in doubt about a key aspect of the Engineer's motivation. That he's, for instance, a high-strung big city type in this remote rural village to film something that he's waiting with increasing impatience to capture. And that the film's central question gets answered in a way that confounds and illuminates both him and us when it turns out that the Engineer has come to the village to learn to appreciate the place for what it is -- instead of the single isolated event he wishes to exploit it for -- and to adapt to its rhythms instead of forcing it to adapt to his. I'd say the film ends precisely when this dilemma gets resolved beautifully, poetically, ambiguously.


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 7:16 pm 

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Spoilers below:

Kiarostami's choices have a lot to do with precisely this idea of whether or nor events become meaningful or not.

The last scene could go either way.

Best case scenario: Professor simply fell down. He gets up, they call the police (or not); and/or boyfriend goes away without breaking door down. Girl helps professor, professor helps girl. Whether they had sex or not is utterly unimportant now. What matters is that there was a crisis, and they survived it. In which case, all the events of the film are least life-changing, no matter what happens next. Will she leave boyfriend finally? (Pretty much would be yes, in this scenario) Will professor + girl develop sexual/non-sexual friendship and/or client relationship? Doesn't matter, would be cool either way. Events are then minor key, but necessary to girl's maturity (leaving abusive boyfriend; gaining older client/friend/mentor) and also for professor (gaining new granddaughter/pretty escort/new sociology student). In other words, everything we saw was interesting, but doesn't really matter that much. And that's not only OK, but for the better, from a humanistic point of view.

Worst case scenario: Professor dies or hurt horribly. Same with girl. How much more life-changing can you get than that? Then everything we just saw is the fatal sequence that led to tragedy.

So it's a turning point, either towards various varieties of more-or-less happy endings, or towards utter destruction.

And we cannot be allowed to know, because to cast towards one or the other extreme skews the film in that direction. Only in the ambiguity can we contemplate not only what we are watching and speculate on what it might mean, but whether it means much at all.

That is a central question of the human condition. Whether you care or not. You don't need to know more about these characters to decide if you care or not; what you do need to do is think about if something will now happen that will force decisive positive or negative outcomes. And that's the beauty here...it doesn't matter if you care or not. What matters is the display of events that would make you care or not.

If you introduce a gun into the action...it must be fired...so goes the dramatic rule. But actually here, the question is about why people bring guns into actions. All of the beautiful cinematography, the poetic allusiveness, the mysteries large and small, all of that simply brings that central question into sharp focus.


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 7:26 pm 
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zedz wrote:
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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?

As far as I know, Like Someone in Love is not a graduate of the Sundance Screenwriters Lab.

And even if it were, it still wouldn't have to answer any of these questions! We have Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Charisma to prove that!


Last edited by FerdinandGriffon on Tue Feb 26, 2013 4:35 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 10:42 pm 
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AlanSChin wrote:
Spoilers below:

Kiarostami's choices have a lot to do with precisely this idea of whether or nor events become meaningful or not.

The last scene could go either way.

Best case scenario: Professor simply fell down. He gets up, they call the police (or not); and/or boyfriend goes away without breaking door down. Girl helps professor, professor helps girl. Whether they had sex or not is utterly unimportant now. What matters is that there was a crisis, and they survived it. In which case, all the events of the film are least life-changing, no matter what happens next. Will she leave boyfriend finally? (Pretty much would be yes, in this scenario) Will professor + girl develop sexual/non-sexual friendship and/or client relationship? Doesn't matter, would be cool either way. Events are then minor key, but necessary to girl's maturity (leaving abusive boyfriend; gaining older client/friend/mentor) and also for professor (gaining new granddaughter/pretty escort/new sociology student). In other words, everything we saw was interesting, but doesn't really matter that much. And that's not only OK, but for the better, from a humanistic point of view.

Worst case scenario: Professor dies or hurt horribly. Same with girl. How much more life-changing can you get than that? Then everything we just saw is the fatal sequence that led to tragedy.

So it's a turning point, either towards various varieties of more-or-less happy endings, or towards utter destruction.

And we cannot be allowed to know, because to cast towards one or the other extreme skews the film in that direction. Only in the ambiguity can we contemplate not only what we are watching and speculate on what it might mean, but whether it means much at all.

That is a central question of the human condition. Whether you care or not. You don't need to know more about these characters to decide if you care or not; what you do need to do is think about if something will now happen that will force decisive positive or negative outcomes. And that's the beauty here...it doesn't matter if you care or not. What matters is the display of events that would make you care or not.

If you introduce a gun into the action...it must be fired...so goes the dramatic rule. But actually here, the question is about why people bring guns into actions. All of the beautiful cinematography, the poetic allusiveness, the mysteries large and small, all of that simply brings that central question into sharp focus.
Thanks for this. You make the strongest case I've read yet for the ending from a strictly narrative standpoint.

A new question occurred to me about the structure of the whole piece: If an important part of what this film is about is building up to a potentionally fateful collision between three equally important characters -- or between two more central characters and a third who's going to do something that affects them both -- why take so much screentime until we get introduced to all three characters and salt in what minimal bits of their histories and motivations are on offer? What does Kiarostami gain from not, for example, briefly introducing each of the the three central characters to us before they interact with each other, and, say gradually weaving each character's narrative strand closer to the others, a tactic that non-hacks as different as Altman, Egoyan and Kieslowski have used? Is it strictly about his desire to stay in one moment cinematically, one register of time and place? Is it just that he's never made a fiction film like that, that cross-cuts in such a manner, so it didn't occur to him to conceive of doing it that way or is there something else that would be very much lost doing it that way but that's gained by meeting each character in this linear, one at a time, appointment-book fashion?


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 10:55 pm 
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If you were paying attention, you would have noticed that all of the main characters are introduced in the first scene. So now your problem is that this Kiarostami film wasn't directed by Atom Egoyan? Let me get my scorecard. . .


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 11:16 pm 
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zedz wrote:
If you were paying attention, you would have noticed that all of the main characters are introduced in the first scene. So now your problem is that this Kiarostami film wasn't directed by Atom Egoyan? Let me get my scorecard. . .

You could argue the boyfriend is introduced in the first scene because he's on the other end of the phone, but I suppose the professor is a stretch for me -- just because he's talked about by his former student, the pimp? Neither is the kind of introduction I'm positing. We do see the girl alone in her environment first. It was a strong choice not to introduce the other characters separately in the same mode. Because doing would be a way to show us they were equally important and a way to indicate that this particular story would be about their paths crossing. I'm just curious if anyone else out there who's seen the film would like to reflect on why he did it this way. Because it's the sort of default Kiarostami way to think about narrative problems of this sort? Or is there something more to it that's specific to the effects of this particular film?


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 11:57 pm 
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Okay, I'll bite. It's because the girl is the common thread of the intersecting lives, and we're to a large degree following her lead and movements in the way the narrative develops. (This is not to say that the narrative doesn't develop in a carefully controlled and stylised way within those parameters, primarily through the use of ellipsis). There are three major characters in the film, and two minor ones. The girl has a distinct, different relationship with every other character but (with one exception) the other characters don't have any relationship with one another unless or until the girl brings them together. And when that does happen, worlds collide and shit goes down. So it would be counterproductive / irrelevant to establish those different worlds / characters independent of the girl. They're not on any kind of predestined collision course until she enters the picture.

In that first scene, we hear about the other characters (or observe their deflected actions) - the boyfriend, the professor, the grandmother - before we meet them physically, as you would in a novel, a play or real life. It's conventional movies which are highly artificial in this regard. Those 'off-screen introductions' are actually beautifully crafted, with plenty of veiled exposition that provides as much background information as we need to set the narrative machine in motion. (As I've noted, that narrative machine is powered by ambiguity: the film simply wouldn't work as intended if we knew too much, or the wrong pieces of information, about the characters.)


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2013 1:20 am 
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zedz wrote:
In that first scene, we hear about the other characters (or observe their deflected actions) - the boyfriend, the professor, the grandmother - before we meet them physically, as you would in a novel, a play or real life. It's conventional movies which are highly artificial in this regard. Those 'off-screen introductions' are actually beautifully crafted, with plenty of veiled exposition that provides as much background information as we need to set the narrative machine in motion. (As I've noted, that narrative machine is powered by ambiguity: the film simply wouldn't work as intended if we knew too much, or the wrong pieces of information, about the characters.)
You've described how the film's opening works pretty nicely. Though I'm not sure it's fair to say that the off-screen character intros are more realistic, more novelistic or less conventional. Any number of novels use the sort of interwoven crosscutting between different characters that I've referenced and if some films do too it's likely in part because they've borrowed the technique from novelists. And I definitely see how from your point of view knowing too much or the wrong pieces of information about the characters would ruin the film, but I'm not entirely sold on how meeting the major characters in a different order or before the girl is due to see each one in the course of her day -- if we kept to the same minimal bits of their history and motivation -- would have a similarly negative effect.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2013 5:28 am 
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I think introducing them separately works better thematically for the film. It's a re-occurring motif that people not physically present can still have dramatic affects on the characters. The intro seems absolutely perfect to the type of film that unfolds to me. Intercutting between them or having them all physically be together at once, I think, wouldn't work for the rest of the film.

*(Based on some of your previous statements I just thought I'd clarify. I'm not suggesting that theme is primary importance to narrative here. Just that Kiarostami dramatizes his theme through narrative, and the narrative structure is how it is, to best show convey the emotions inherent to the themes of the film).


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2013 11:46 am 
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The film is also playing from the get-go with the tension/ambiguity between objective and subjective shots. In order to do this coherently it's necessary to limit the number of onscreen characters and to introduce new ones with care and control, shifting POV only when there's a meaningful, non-expository necessity to do so. The most obvious example of this is how Kiarostami handles the neighbor character, inserting her into the film through what at first appears to be an establishing shot of the parking area that then (through sound alone) is revealed to be a comically on the nose POV shot, which in a later scene is further inverted into a reverse shot, presumably from the girl's POV, but framed in a hilariously geometrical, Ozu-eque style.

If all three "main" characters appear in the same scene, then Kiarostami usually places some sort of partition between them to separate them into two groups. See the garage scene, the final scene, or the university scene, in all of which Kiarostami uses windows to delineate the camera's perspective. If he were to break with his own rules and, for example, show us the car engine from the boyfriend's perspective, or the professor's face in the apartment window, then much of the significance and impact of these scenes would be lost.

However, if he were to have made the film you wished he had made, with each of the characters introduced in their own discrete scene, then he'd have absolutely no excuse not to enter their POVs later. Which is one of the many reasons why he made this film and not the one you've confoundingly decided you'd rather have watched.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2013 12:16 pm 
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warren oates wrote:
Any number of novels use the sort of interwoven crosscutting between different characters that I've referenced and if some films do too it's likely in part because they've borrowed the technique from novelists.
Really? I'm trying hard and I can't really think of any novelists, especially pre-cinema ones, who take this approach, except perhaps Faulkner, who's doing it in such a radical way that the technique isn't really the same thing at all anymore. It's much more of something I associate with Hollywood style thrillers or ensemble dramas, like The Usual Suspects, etc. When Altman uses the technique, it's always in the context of an ensemble, usually where the characters are corralled into a unified space and period of time, i.e.: where the technique makes dramatic, meaningful sense.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2013 12:20 pm 
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FerdinandGriffon wrote:
However, if he were to have made the film you wished he had made, with each of the characters introduced in their own discrete scene, then he'd have absolutely no excuse not to enter their POVs later. Which is one of the many reasons why he made this film and not the one you've confoundingly decided you'd rather have watched.

This is interesting to me. Coming at it from the angle of a cinematic, visual strategy. And I guess I can agree with it, if I'm not quite sure what you mean. Because I'm not convinced that Kiarostami was thinking primarily about the narrative when he decided on all those off-screen introductions. It seems to me more likely that, cinematicaly, he simply wasn't ever going to cut away from the present moment of a single time/place and so that was a given beforehand and whatever narrative or structural problem solving he did took off from that first decision. Great direction can paper over a huge amount of less great writing, which is why I'm so interested in whatever choices can be ascribed to the story construction.

There are definite tradeoffs. Some of the glancing off-screen intros can feel like what happens in real life when we hear about someone before we see them, like zedz says. But some of them can feel more like what happens in the theatre, even in very good plays, because it's a convention for conveying exposition and there's no other better way to do it given the theatre's classical unities. Like all the talk about the professor in Uncle Vanya before you meet him.

Even without some of the emotional detail I wish I had, there remains an awful lot of expositional pipelaying that happens in the film one way or another -- information that Kiarostami himself seems to be acknowledging that the audience needs to know for the story to work. And it seems to me there's much more of it than in other Kiarostami films. Some of the offscreen stuff isn't exemplifying the subtlety zedz finds in the strategy. Two instances that stick out for me
[Reveal] Spoiler:
"Sorry bro for punching you out because you said my girl was a ho because you saw her on that 1-800-F*** card" or "Granddaughter, I'm still waiting at the station. I've been waiting so long I went to get some noodles. Somebody from back home with a daughter showed me a flyer with a picture that looked like you and a number to call for sex. But I know it wasn't you." To be fair, the bit with the boyfriend and the picture is cut in two. He half recounts the story in the car first and apologizes to his work friend later. Still, the film foregrounds that event's happening off-screen.
I think the grandma example is just unnecessary and should have been cut. We don't need to know that she suspects anything untoward about the girl's life. And it's straining credibility a bit for me to have the same dirty ad come up twice in two such different contexts, it makes that big world seem a bit too small.

One thing about off-screen intros is that they definitely don't necessarily qualify as intros per se while they are happening. There's either teasing unconventional ambiguity about them or a lack of clarity about how important any of those characters will ever be (or both!), if we'll ever meet them or they are just providing backstory or setting up a plot device. Whereas seeing them each on screen in their own isolated alienated glass city bubbles would make it clear that they are important characters we'd be coming back to.

I'm sure zedz will savage me for this but I saw The Grifters again recently and it has more or less the same structural problem in the abstract. It's a story about the violent collision of three equally important characters, two of whom we wouldn't meet for a while in the course of the original book. How does the film let us know that they will all be important? Be allowing us to see all three of them at the beginning, each in their own world, before they ultimately cross paths.

What if we'd met the professor alone, seen a bit of his actual loneliness/alienation, maybe an interaction with the neighbor woman, something about the book he was working on, seen him taking time to prepare the dinner, gotten a sense of his daily routine? What about the boyfriend, if we'd seen him confident and competent at his auto-body shop right up until his coworker shows him that picture of his girlfriend and he decks him? Then he calls her in a rage, without telling her why, and makes her count the tiles in the bathroom at the club.

I'm not saying it should be that way or it would be better, or that I would have enjoyed this film more, just that it's interesting to me to think through all the alternatives in light of Kiarostami's ultimate choices. His primary cinematic interests seem at odds with the demands of this particular story. Often this kind of tension in a work is thrilling and produces amazing results. For some of you it clearly has.


Last edited by warren oates on Tue Feb 26, 2013 12:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2013 12:24 pm 
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FerdinandGriffon wrote:
warren oates wrote:
Any number of novels use the sort of interwoven crosscutting between different characters that I've referenced and if some films do too it's likely in part because they've borrowed the technique from novelists.
Really? I'm trying hard and I can't really think of any novelists, especially pre-cinema ones, who take this approach, except perhaps Faulkner, who's doing it in such a radical way that the technique isn't really the same thing at all anymore. It's much more of something I associate with Hollywood style thrillers or ensemble dramas, like The Usual Suspects, etc. When Altman uses the technique, it's always in the context of an ensemble, usually where the characters are corralled into a unified space and period of time, i.e.: where the technique makes dramatic, meaningful sense.
Well, D.W. Griffith always claimed he got the idea of crosscutting from Dickens. Hopping around to different characters in alternating chunks or chapters doesn't seem like it's anything new under the sun. Though I'm not enough of a scholar of the history of literature to say whether there was much sustained interest in more radical approaches to this sort of intercutting/interweaving technique before modernism.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2013 1:17 pm 
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warren oates wrote:
And I guess I can agree with it, if I'm not quite sure what you mean. Because I'm not convinced that Kiarostami was thinking primarily about the narrative when he decided on all those off-screen introductions. It seems to me more likely that, cinematicaly, he simply wasn't ever going to cut away from the present moment of a single time/place and so that was a given beforehand and whatever narrative or structural problem solving he did took off from that first decision.

In literary theory, it's called free indirect discourse. The camera is positioned largely outside of the characters' subjectivities, but can enter those subjectivities to a degree and in a controlled manner. In order not to confuse the viewer and to orient the action, the camera is usually allied to a particular character's perspective, even when the shots are not strictly POV. When it switches perspective, there are clearly marked, fluid transitions. For example:
1. Shot of professor as principle subject driving car. Semi-subjective.
2. Establishing shot of parking spot with professor parking car at significant distance from camera. Objective.
3. Loud-off screen voice triggers a shift in our understanding of establishing shot above; we now categorize it as POV tied to offscreen character. Subjective.
What you want from the film would be more of a third-person omniscient mode, where the camera is hovering over all of the characters and their entire world at once and objectively, whilst also being privy to all of their subjective thoughts and perspectives in a God-like manner. The above scene would have to be reshot, with free and regular alternation between establishing, medium, close-up and POV shots. Meaning would be shot dead.

warren oates wrote:
There are definite tradeoffs. Some of the glancing off-screen intros can feel like what happens in real life when we hear about someone before we see them, like zedz says. But some of them can feel more like what happens in the theatre, even in very good plays, because it's a convention for conveying exposition and there's no other better way to do it given the theatre's classical unities. Like all the talk about the professor in Uncle Vanya before you meet him.

This is only a problem if you insist that the film has to operate in a realist, naturalistic mode. It doesn't do this, and it doesn't have to, as has been said again and again. Kiarostami is not Chekov, and if his film utilizes some of the same tools as Chekov, it doesn't mean their effect is the same. (And it's highly arguable that their effect in Chekov is as you describe it.)

warren oates wrote:
And it's straining credibility a bit for me to have the same dirty ad come up twice in two such different contexts, it makes that big world seem a bit too small.
Guess what? I happen to agree with you. But it's a tiny, tiny fleck of paint in a much, much larger canvas, and it has no effect on the larger structure or composition of the film. So you're nitpicking, which wouldn't necessarily be a problem if it wasn't for the fact that you think your nitpicks add up to a coherent analysis of the film.

warren oates wrote:
There's either teasing unconventional ambiguity about them or a lack of clarity about how important any of those characters will ever be (or both!), if we'll ever meet them or they are just providing backstory or setting up a plot device.
Any character mentioned in greater than passing detail during the telephone calls or conversation is seen in relatively short order, including periphery characters like the grandmother or the best friend, so your confusion is inexplicable to me. And as for ambiguity, we've already shown how that is the driving force of the film and perhaps of Kiarostami's work as a whole.

warren oates wrote:
What if we'd met the professor alone, seen a bit of his actual loneliness/alienation, maybe an interaction with the neighbor woman, something about the book he was working on, seen him taking time to prepare the dinner, gotten a sense of his daily routine? What about the boyfriend, if we'd seen him confident and competent at his auto-body shop right up until his coworker shows him that picture of his girlfriend and he decks him? Then he calls her in a rage, without telling her why, and makes her count the tiles in the bathroom at the club.
warren oates wrote:
Whereas seeing them each on screen in their own isolated alienated glass city bubbles would make it clear that they are important characters we'd be coming back to.
And bloat the length of the film by another half an hour, and require more scenes from the boyfriend's perspective later on, and ruin the superb spareness of the opening scene's two shot structure, and parcel out meaning in tasty but indigestible Chicken Nuggets of conventionality, all for the pathetic assurance that there are three main characters.

warren oates wrote:
I'm sure zedz will savage me for this but I saw The Grifters again recently and it has more or less the same structural problem in the abstract.
You don't need to wait for zedz. Frears is a hack, far more guilty in any of his films of TV studio theatricality and clumsy storytelling then Kiarostami (an inherently cinematic storyteller if I've ever watched one) has ever been. I saw The Grifters once, years ago, so I can't remember exactly where he went wrong with that one in particular, but I do remember that I'd never like to remind myself by watching it again.

warren oates wrote:
His primary cinematic interests seem at odds with the demands of this particular story.
[/quote] No, they don't, as everyone else has more than amply illustrated. This isn't a conversation about The Master, where your astute questions have been met with noncommittal suggestions that you shell out thirty bucks and see it twice more, after which all will be revealed. This is a conversation about Like Someone in Love, and several people have gone to great lengths and into close detail to elaborate how almost every single directorial decision you question was made in a way that adds to the structure, meaning, and emotional content of the film.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2013 1:47 pm 
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FerdinandGriffon wrote:
warren oates wrote:
And I guess I can agree with it, if I'm not quite sure what you mean. Because I'm not convinced that Kiarostami was thinking primarily about the narrative when he decided on all those off-screen introductions. It seems to me more likely that, cinematicaly, he simply wasn't ever going to cut away from the present moment of a single time/place and so that was a given beforehand and whatever narrative or structural problem solving he did took off from that first decision.

In literary theory, it's called free indirect discourse. The camera is positioned largely outside of the characters' subjectivities, but can enter those subjectivities to a degree and in a controlled manner. In order not to confuse the viewer and to orient the action, the camera is usually allied to a particular character's perspective, even when the shots are not strictly POV. When it switches perspective, there are clearly marked, fluid transitions. For example:
1. Shot of professor as principle subject driving car. Semi-subjective.
2. Establishing shot of parking spot with professor parking car at significant distance from camera. Objective.
3. Loud-off screen voice triggers a shift in our understanding of establishing shot above; we now categorize it as POV tied to offscreen character. Subjective.
What you want from the film would be more of a third-person omniscient mode, where the camera is hovering over all of the characters and their entire world at once and objectively, whilst also being privy to all of their subjective thoughts and perspectives in a God-like manner. The above scene would have to be reshot, with free and regular alternation between establishing, medium, close-up and POV shots. Meaning would be shot dead.

I think I understand what you've written about a visual strategy akin to free indirect discourse within scenes, but I'm still not sure of how jumping around in the narrative structurally between scenes, even in different places, say, just at the beginning, would unravel that visual approach entirely. Couldn't you still shoot each individual scene in the film that way even if you cut between them? What about if each one was more or less self-contained and they happened in succession?

FerdinandGriffon wrote:
warren oates wrote:
What if we'd met the professor alone, seen a bit of his actual loneliness/alienation, maybe an interaction with the neighbor woman, something about the book he was working on, seen him taking time to prepare the dinner, gotten a sense of his daily routine? What about the boyfriend, if we'd seen him confident and competent at his auto-body shop right up until his coworker shows him that picture of his girlfriend and he decks him? Then he calls her in a rage, without telling her why, and makes her count the tiles in the bathroom at the club.
warren oates wrote:
Whereas seeing them each on screen in their own isolated alienated glass city bubbles would make it clear that they are important characters we'd be coming back to.
And bloat the length of the film by another half an hour, and require more scenes from the boyfriend's perspective later on, and ruin the superb spareness of the opening scene's two shot structure, and parcel out meaning in tasty but indigestible Chicken Nuggets of conventionality, all for the pathetic assurance that there are three main characters.

Once again, I'm not saying it should be this way or it would be better but I actually wonder if three brief establishing scenes for each character alone at the beginning wouldn't speed things along a bit and shorten the length of the film considerably maybe even by a half an hour. Because a lot of the screentime later on in the film is presently taken up by doling out explicit and implicit expositional details about the characters and their situation that, had we seen them briefly before, would already be established with more economy and without necessarily sacrificing much minimalism or mystery.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2013 2:06 pm 
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I would not want to watch this alternate film you're describing. Why is narrative economy something we should value? I think that would completely kill the mood the film builds up very carefully.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2013 2:24 pm 
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warren oates wrote:
I think I understand what you've written about a visual strategy akin to free indirect discourse within scenes, but I'm still not sure of how jumping around in the narrative structurally between scenes, even in different places, say, just at the beginning, would unravel that visual approach entirely. Couldn't you still shoot each individual scene in the film that way even if you cut between them? What about if each one was more or less self-contained and they happened in succession?
Because, to give one example, Kiarostami has no excuse not to countershot to a some kind of POV of the neighbor from the professor's perspective (revealing her face scenes earlier, normalizing the film grammar and removing the subtle shades of meaning in the scene (and the later one!)) if he hasn't already established that in each scene the camera will ally itself with a particular subjectivity unless "passed" to another character's subjectivity by a significant sequence of shots operating within a consistent space and time, like the one I described above. If the camera can just hop miles across the city at will in order to paint little vignettes wherever it pleases, then the degree of rigor at work in the scene as it stands in the film is impossible.

FerdinandGriffon wrote:
Because a lot of the screentime later on in the film is presently taken up by doling out explicit and implicit expositional details about the characters and their situation that, had we seen them briefly before, would already be established with more economy and without necessarily sacrificing much minimalism or mystery.
How would two additional full introductory scenes possibly be more economical then the allusions conveying the same story content scattered across the film?

Remember the scene in which the professor is introduced?
[Reveal] Spoiler:
Where the cab driver enters the restaurant and loudly enquires of the cooks there whether they know where they can find the man who has ordered the prostitute he is transporting, and we suddenly see this non-descript looking fellow who we assumed was an extra come furiously and touchingly to life, turn bright red and hurry out of the place?
Maybe you don't care for the scene and mentioning it doesn't do much for my argument, but I though it was a very graceful moment and one of the better character introductions I've seen in a long time. And I'd hate to lose it to your "HERE IS THE PROFESSOR, LOOK AT HIM TOIL IN HIS ENNUI AND LONELINESS; HERE IS THE GIRL, SHE IS SO SAD; HERE IS THE BOY, HE IS SO ANGRY".


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2013 2:40 pm 
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YnEoS wrote:
Why is narrative economy something we should value? I think that would completely kill the mood the film builds up very carefully.
Idk, you've already expressed your admiration for other films that are kind of poster boys for achieving the heights of art film seriousness and beauty while exemplifying narrative economy like L'argent. Some people I know still find Bresson's films off-puttingly fast. And yet within that structure of austere narrative economy he creates a space of contemplative interiority that causes many others to proclaim his films slow.

Egoyan, whom I've mentioned above, is a master of the sort of narrative economy via the interweaving I've mentioned. And if anything it creates the unique atmosphere of tension and dread in his best pictures.

Of course I'm not saying any of that is right for Kiarsostami, just that these were choices he avoided for what I think are primarily visual and aesthetic reasons related to his personal vision of cinema (what Ferdinand has been describing), which in this case seemed to me to be prioritized over the narrative, rather than coequal and organically evolving alongside it. Though I appreciate that so many of you don't feel there's a gap like I do.

I understand that one aspect of the pleasures of this and many other Kiarostami films is immersion in a moment. Part of the brilliance of his work in other films for me is how he manages to create and sustain this feeling with what I'd say is some serious narrative economy, at least with respect to any necessary exposition, so that we can enjoy the characters, the landscape, the poetic/funny digressions, the fullness of each moment. Either most of what we need to know about the characters for the narrative to get going is very minimal and given to us fairly early on, or say in the case of Certified Copy, a large part of the narrative itself is about the active present moment contention of just what constitutes the characters' backstory.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2013 3:05 pm 
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FerdinandGriffon wrote:
How would two additional full introductory scenes possibly be more economical then the allusions conveying the same story content scattered across the film?
Because "subtle" exposition scattered into a narrative is often more tedious and time consuming than you think it's going to be. Whereas it's possible, especially the at beginning of a film, to set up any number of plot and character details relatively quickly that you can come back to much later. It's why Sci-fi films use title cards. Or why The Shining starts off with that Overlook tour or why we have to watch the Solaristics film at the opening of Solaris. It's absurd and hyperbolic, but imagine Kiarostami trying to set up stories like that his way -- via indirection and off-screen space and a strictly linear dedication to the present moment -- and you'll see what I'm getting at.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2013 3:47 pm 
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warren oates wrote:
Idk, you've already expressed your admiration for other films that are kind of poster boys for achieving the heights of art film seriousness and beauty while exemplifying narrative economy like L'argent.
I think Bresson is a bad example for comparison, as Bresson's narratives are rich in action but very light on story or plot. A master of narrative economy he may be, but one must remember that his narratives themselves are spare. Even his films that are larger in scope, like L'Argent, Au hasard Balthazar, and The Devil Probably have fairly simple, linear storylines, and certainly don't indulge in exclusive introductory scenes for each major character.

A better comparison to Kiarostami, especially for this film, is Ozu, a minimalist through and through whose films are defined by their carefully pared down grammar but who also presents some of the most complex and fully realized narratives and networks of character relationships in all of cinema. And he never indulges in expository scenes. The films are characterized by narrative elision and ellipses, and most of the significant action in conventional terms happens in the gaps between scenes. About thirty minutes into one of his movies I'm often still a little confused about who is related to who and how, but there have been more than enough pleasures to distract (and distracting) me, and I know that by the end I'll be much better grounded in the Who's Who and looking forward to a reviewing of the film with all of the Sparknotes quiz questions safely memorized. Not to mention the fact that the audience is supposed to be confused, that the ambiguities about relationship are meaningful.

warren oates wrote:
Of course I'm not saying any of that is right for Kiarsostami, just that these were choices he avoided for what I think are primarily visual and aesthetic reasons related to his personal vision of cinema (what Ferdinand has been describing), which in this case seemed to me to be prioritized over the narrative, rather than coequal and organically evolving alongside it. Though I appreciate that so many of you don't feel there's a gap like I do.
We come back to what swo17 was saying, which was, if I may rephrase, that narrative filmmaking is made up of many components (narrative being one of these but not necessarily a privileged one) which can all be weighted differently according to the disposition of the filmmaker and the subject. Narrative does not have to be coequal with the rest of these components. So yes, we probably agree that there is a gap, that though there is a quite complex narrative being used here, one which incorporates past and unseen events, the film slightly privileges, for instance, manipulations of film grammar and convention and use and depiction of spatial elements over explicit plot information and character backstory.

Which is objectively something it is allowed to do. It might not be to your taste, but in order for us to be interested in why not, you have to either:
1.) Show us, with specific examples, how we have misread the film and seen something that is not there.
2.) Show us that narrative and character are the final and privileged goals of narrative filmmaking, rather than two of it's most oftenly used tools. But then you'll have me and zedz and others giving you examples of films and theory that disprove that rule, and that will be boring for us and you.

Lastly,
warren oates wrote:
Either most of what we need to know about the characters for the narrative to get going is very minimal and given to us fairly early on, or say in the case of Certified Copy, a large part of the narrative itself is about the active present moment contention of just what constitutes the characters' backstory.
As we've said over and over again, the latter is the case. Period. You could find that in a plot synopsis on imdb.

I feel like you've consistently dodged questions and ignored the precise evidence presented to you, instead returning with volleys of generalizations and so called principles and the rhetorical white elephant of a hypothetical film that might have been but that isn't.

Edit: Speaking of which:
warren oates wrote:
It's absurd and hyperbolic, but imagine Kiarostami trying to set up stories like that his way -- via indirection and off-screen space and a strictly linear dedication to the present moment -- and you'll see what I'm getting at.
I... can't? Kiarostami couldn't and wouldn't make Solaris or The Shining, or any hypothetical version of the source material. But he did make Like Someone in Love, and we can only talk about the film as it is and whether or not it works on its own terms, not what it could have been or what Kiarostami's posthumous version of Sorcerer will look like in Heaven.


Last edited by FerdinandGriffon on Tue Feb 26, 2013 4:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2013 8:10 pm 

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Comparing Kiarostami to Tarkovsky ! Solaris is a great film, one of my favorite, but it at 69 hours long it's one of Tarkovsky's fastest paced! Kiarostami isn't making an epic here, nor an alternate sci-fi universe, nor a profound meditation on the meaning of life. There are elements of all of those, of course, hints and pleasures. But the base of Like Someone in Love is emotional rather than descriptive. From what I read, he gave the actors a script (and for him, a more detailed one than he usually does, but quite spare anyway) and let them run with it and make a lot of their own choices. I could be wrong about this, but especially as he doesn't share a native language with them (presumably just some limited English), and worked through a translator, what he did is concentrate on the visuals, establish the architecture, and then trust his actors. Of course every director has to do this -- but it seems he did it more than usual -- and so where this film shines plays precisely to some of the strengths that approach can evoke. Which is, the contemplation of character and detail as interpreted by the actors. And here they are imperfect, necessarily, but on balance they get it much more right than not. Presumably they have their own questions, the same ones we're asking, and others too. But being nuanced and allowed to explore those emotional ranges, they do so. And hence what we get reflects this. We get to ask those questions, without receiving firm answers, only clues. And we do get, inevitably, the unfolding of a slight story.

Between the first nightclub scene and the end, it's only about 16-18 hours of time. 9 pm, say, at the club....9:30 driving around the train station. 10 or 10:30 to get to the professor's house. Akiko falls asleep by 11:30. Then, the unknown night. 9 am give or take driving back into town. 10-12 roughly the scene with boyfriend. 1 pm is when Akiko meets boyfriend at bookstore, so it must be 1:45 or 2 when professor picks her up, and 2:30 or 3 when they get back to the house and get attacked. That's it.

In that time, which is cast entirely in a realist mode, only so much can happen and be learned. Characters can give a lot of their history in just a few words, but not more. If this were a silent movie entirely (no placards or anything), we'd know almost as much. Although -- and this is important -- we wouldn't know that the boyfriend is a boyfriend because there's no actual touching between him and the girl. He could be a brother, a rejected suitor, a crazed friend, anything. Which, if you think of it this way, tells you much more about her relationship to him than might first be apparent. In fact, there's very little (if any) touching at all between anybody. Therefore, it's the emotions, the possibilities, which are more important than the actualities witnessed. Even Akiko's flash of temper, her initial refusal to her pimp, happens when the camera is on him, not her. If we didn't hear it, all we'd see is this conversation in the club and then her getting into a taxi. We don't see any sex or not-sex. We don't see the actual fight in the bookstore where she gets bloodied. We never see the boyfriend in the last scene, only the rock coming in through the window.

We could thus make an even sparser version of this film, in which there's no dialogue. And without dialogue, we could cut even more scenes and impart even less information. And without speculating too much, the base conceit of it would still communicate and be effective within those terms. That's it.

Now, as a viewer, you're going to get different things out of this. Generalizing, men may respond differently than women. Older viewers may respond differently than younger ones. Japanese people (or people with detailed experience or knowledge of Japan) may respond differently than those who know little about contemporary Japanese life and culture. And so on. In this case, with a mostly educated, art-house audience, I imagine the seduction is to see oneself in one or more of the roles depicted. Stages of life. Many men may have been the pimp, the boyfriend and the professor, at different points of life. The neighbor lady's scene hints at this. Many women may be girl, grandmother, neighbor, at different times too. So you get to play this game, without definitive answers. Narrative-wise, it's all you need. To ask for more is just to fill out those roles for yourself as a viewer.


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 16, 2013 10:28 am 
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Really liked this. I saw it in the cinema last night, and was so taken by it that I watched it again via on demand first thing this morning. I don't have much to add that zedz, FerdinandGriffon, YnEoS, and AlanSChin haven't already covered beautifully. I like that the film is Like Someone in Love -- an impersonation of romance, and indeed "romantic comedy cinema." It's certainly a companion piece to Certified Copy too in that regard (identity play, genre impersonation, translation).

I think that Kiarostami's "Unfinished Cinema" piece that JMULL222 linked is very relevant. As others have pointed out, this is a film about those elisions that Kiarostami refers to. The elisions allow it to be interpreted as a frothy rom-com with all the usual cliches, but when you fill in the blanks, something much darker appears -- reality. zedz already covered this thoroughly.

The film is full of Kiarostami's usual wonderful compositions through glass, reflected in windows, tv screens, etc. I think that's even more important here than usual though. In that same "Unfinished Cinema" piece, Kiarostami also says, "The cinema is a window into our dreams and through which it is easier to recognize ourselves." I think that maybe Like Someone in Love is a gentle indictment, of sorts, of the viewer, watching this seemingly innocuous story unfold through a movie screen/window of artificiality. It is only when the artifice of those windows/glass/curtains/screens are disturbed that we are able to see things for what they are. We first get the sense that there is something more to the kindly, old professor when the nosy neighbor (another rom-com stock character) literally pulls back the gauzy curtain from her little window to give us some hints about the professor's past. Again, those windows through which we watch are important. We don't always see everything through them. The romantic comedy illusion is finally, violently shattered in the final seconds of the film, in hopes that maybe at last, we will see everything.

Really hoping that Becker & Co. decide that this is "major Kiarostami" too!


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PostPosted: Sun Mar 17, 2013 4:20 pm 
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My wife and I also just saw this -- and thought it was pretty wonderful -- from start to finish. Honestly, I can't imagine one moment of this being different from the way that AK made this. Perhaps because I understood much of the dialog (without reliance on the subs), this seem (often -- not always) even funnier than other AK films. Definitely "major".


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 18, 2013 6:46 pm 
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My experience with Kiarostami consists of having seen Close Up a number of years ago, enjoying it but not having a recollection of it to a point where I'd feel it would be appropriate to write about as well as bits and pieces of a Taste of Cherry so for all intents I consider Like Someone In Love my first true experience with his work.

Quite enjoyed the film. It had the feel of as if Iran & Japan had a baby. The intensely complicated, contradictory nature of Iranians coupled with the reserved, in conflict with tradition and modernity of the Japanese with the thread connecting the two and the audience being human nature. How life's circumstances, often through no fault of your own, sometimes even out of kindness or your own personal shortcomings and struggle or complete randomness arise in life where you all of a sudden find yourself in situations which cause you to react with heightened senses of emotion. Whether, as it was In Like Someone In Love, they be shame, pride or a desire to bring peace to another person's level of consternation when it's not your place to do so.

Kiarostami created a tapestry of life, of circumstance and emotional reaction that felt very real because yes even in the middle of high stress situations, silly things, humorous moments do happen all the while as some sort of cloud of doom ominously lurks behind you until it inevitably overtakes you and unleashes.

The brilliance, or genius if you will, of the film was in the writing. The audience was not placed in its traditional role of passive observer but rather of active participant. Sometimes what happens with the latter is that the audience has to do all the work which can indeed be tiresome, even confusing for some but not so here. Most of us can't relate to specific situations of the characters but we can relate to being presented with unpleasant choices, with the ambiguity making the film not about the characters we were following, nor about us as an audience but rather all human beings. Like Someone In Love. So good.

[Reveal] Spoiler:
various readings:

the old man and Akiko never had sex, if he was going to do so he wouldn't have wasted that much time, nor would have Kiarostami bothered showing all that... the effect showing was to humanize her in ways to him and to us in ways that were not appropriate of a girl in as deep a trouble as she

the neighbour led me to believe that his irrational care for this girl had far more to do with some sort of transference or regret from his own life, something we're all guilty of doing

the one issue i had and perhaps this was the point was that Akiko felt too two dimensional to me, of the three i felt like i knew her the least but again that's probably the point, you're not supposed to get know your prostitute, she's there to provide a service anything beyond that and you're playing with fire

on the ending i lean towards the old man not dying but it's inconsequential because whatever happened it wasn't good... you can make the case that him surviving, ruining his name & reputation in the process at his age would be a fate even worse than death


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