In Like Someone in Love, what isn’t seen is just as important as (if not more than) what is seen. From writer/director Abbas Kiarostami’s previous work, there’s an obvious corollary to The Wind Will Carry Us, a film about an engineer who goes into a remote village to film a funeral ritual who finds his piercing gaze consistently denied throughout the film. Kiarostami uses this technique to explore the ethics of the camera and consumption of the urban image as well as critique the traditionally masculine gaze and power of the image.
While Like Someone in Love doesn’t use off-screen space for quite the same reasons, Kiarostami once again explores this technique in order to make us consider what is unseen and unrepresented. In Like Someone in Love, what remains off-screen reminds the audience of the invisibility of masculine domination and abuse that still occurs in countries that are seen as more progressive towards women’s roles in society.
Akiko (Rin Takanashi) is a student by day, a call girl by night and a trapped woman in both worlds. In the opening scene, her boss convinces her to go on a call girl job with an old professor after she says no. She’s also caught in an abusive relationship with her fiancé, Noriaki (Ryo Kase), who constantly calls her and asks to be updated on her every movement. She begins to develop an odd relationship with Takashi (Tadashi Okuno), the old professor, who thinks he might be able to help her.
In his ‘90s Iranian films, Kiarostami was accused of marginalizing women in his films (although, in some cases unjustly given how The Wind Will Carry Us subversively empowers women by denying men the right to see them). Throughout the ‘00s he began to develop women in more overt roles in his films (see Ten, Shirin and Certified Copy) and it’s interesting that of all his female protagonist thus far Akiko is the most helpless of them all.
While the female protagonist in Ten bemoaned her marginalized social status as a woman in Iran, Kiarostami gave her some decorum of control by having her always at the wheel of the car, a space in which she is able to control and dictate that pace of her world. In contrast, Akiko is always the passenger in the car which is being driven by a man. She’s simply along for the ride.
Like Someone in Love also shares corollaries to The Wind Will Carry Us in its critique of technology. Both films align masculine characters with technology. In The Wind Will Carry Us technology is denied in the rural space, the car breaks down are wireless phone coverage is spotty. By extension, masculine power is denied as well. In Like Someone in Love the prevalence and dominance of technology allows men to control women.
The opening scene is a phone conversation between Akiko and Takashi where he is constantly questioning her about where she is and what she is doing. With the ubiquity of access to a person and Takashi’s jealous spirit, Akiko is constantly placed in an emotional trap of fear that Takashi will want updates on her every movement. And when she decides to remove herself from technology, it raises Takashi’s suspicions even further and leads to a big fight.
Speaking of the big fight, it’s one of the key moments that remain off-screen. In this case, it’s Kiarostami keeping the violence off-screen. It’s a bit trick to get into the particular motivations as to why. On an aesthetic level, keeps Kiarostami from taking the audience’s emotions hostage as such a violent event, if witnessed, will well up strong feelings within the audience.
However, if one is to look at it in terms of how Kiarostami structures the relationship and its corollary to gender roles, what it suggests is that this is an issue that is unrepresented and repressed in cultures that have more public roles for women in society. Sure, oppression still exists, but what Kiarostami suggests is in this culture the problem is privately hidden from view where it becomes more difficult to address and expose.
Abbas Kiarostami as a cultural outsider exposes this rotten issue that shows that the root problem of men dominating women goes far deeper than the treatment of women in the public sphere. The issues of masculine power and control are still dominant in the private sphere, society hasn’t changed that value system, hence the issues of gender equality are still entrenched and more difficult to address because it’s a problem that isn’t even being perceived as an issue.
© 2013 James Blake Ewing