The cinematic worlds of Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami have always revolved around constantly shifting relationships — between children, between students and teachers, between strangers, between lovers or spouses, sometimes between documentary realism and narrative fancy. This interest has become even more overt in recent years: 2010's Certified Copy, a perplexing portrait of a man and a woman whose precise relationship appears ever in flux, was some sort of masterpiece. His latest, Like Someone in Love, is more direct than Copy — you could, with a fair bit of confidence, outline its plot to a friend — but it also extends his fascination with tremulous emotional landscapes.
Set in Japan (a more natural location for an Iranian director than you might think), Like Someone in Love gives us a young student and occasional prostitute (Rin Takanashi) who spends an evening with an older professor (Tadashi Okuno), only to have him begin to insinuate himself into her life in ways both welcome and troubling. As in Kiarostami's earlier works, preconception matters a great deal here, both in the narrative and in the way the film works on its audience.
The director relishes dismantling our assumptions about these characters — and their assumptions about one another. In doing so, he weaves a style around things seen and unseen, heard and unheard. Kiarostami's grasp of technology and technique has never felt less than attuned, but this marks his most sophisticated use of sound yet, both thematically and technically. The early parts of the film are suffused with phone calls and half-heard exchanges and conversations, and later scenes make devastating use of offscreen sound. This isn't just the director showing off, though; he has instead made something about the tension between external and internal space. Gradually, the collision of these different worlds begins to create something like suspense, leading to a shattering, yet deliciously incomplete, finale.