For the 2013 New Zealand International Film Festival I figured I’d try and keep some kind of a review diary covering each of the 20 or so films I’m planning to see. It’s going to be a busy couple of weeks.

likesomeoneinlovesmallMy second of three films scheduled for day two of the NZIFF was Abbas Kiarostami’s Like Someone in Love, the film that has given my first (of several hopefully) real head-scratching experience thus far.

Like Someone in Love is an elusive story told in just four or five major scenes, as a lonely elderly professor Watanabe (Tadashi Okuno) finds himself entwined in the troubling relationship of Akiko (Rin Takanashi), the call girl whose services he employed for unclear reasons, and Noriaki (Ryo Kase), her possessive, menacing fiancé.

Kiarostami’s direction is pretty minimalist, letting his camera linger in long takes to allow audiences to absorb the interactions from the cracking performances. There are moments of deep sadness early on as Akiko ignores phone messages from her grandmother, choosing not to stop as she passes her on the street. There’s a subtle melancholy to Watanabe as well, as it seems that he only desires companionship rather than sexual gratification from Akiko, despite her effortless shift into her flirty professional persona.

While the story meanders into some apparently mundane territory, there’s a very deliberate, simmering pace which is constantly riveting, and it always feels like Kiarostami is building to an ending that is probably going to be unpleasant, but enlightening in some way. Whether or not that’s the case will differ for everyone, but personally I didn’t really get the answers I was looking for. As I said, it’s all very well focused, but if the ambiguous ending was meant to offer something rewarding I missed it completely.

Like Someone in Love is filmmaking I admired, but ultimately left me feeling quite empty. I’m not as familiar with Kiarostami’s work as I would like so maybe I’m missing some familiar themes, but this is not an easy film to take in. There seems to be a lot going on under the surface, but it sure is a tough nut to crack.