There's a mix of exhilaration and comfort to be had watching the work of a master like Abbas Kiarostami, each shot composed with excruciating care, each frame packed with telling visual detail, the reflective surfaces creating a faintly hallucinatory effect that also makes the Iranian director's point -- that what we see isn't necessarily what we get, and that presumption is for chumps.
The presumption one might make about Kiarostami is that he's given up trying to torture his movies into something acceptable to the mullahs. His previous film, the elliptical "Certified Copy" (2010) took place in Italy; his latest, "Like Someone in Love," takes place in Tokyo, where student and moonlighting call girl Akiko (Rin Takanashi) is dispatched to service the aging scholar/translator Takashi (Tadashi Okuno), who would rather talk and eat.
The two spend a chatty evening together, he tucks her into bed, and then they end up having to fool her abusive boyfriend, Noriaki (Ryo Kase), into thinking Akiko is Takashi's granddaughter. Nothing happens that can compare to "Certified Copy" -- there, the characters played by Juliette Binoche and William Shimell really became other people. But Kiarostami is up to his usual shenanigans, toying with our expectations, puppet-mastering his characters' identities and pretending to be matter-of-fact, while being anything but.
It's a beautiful film -- not a major work, perhaps, from the director of such masterpieces as "Taste of Cherry" (1997), "Through the Olive Trees" (1994) and "Close-Up" (1990), but one which furthers his explorations of what cinema means. And, once again, he has taken what seem like banal conceits -- a three-way drama, the contrivance of mistaken identity -- and turned them into something playfully profound.
PLOT A student call girl and her elderly client playact for her hot-tempered boyfriend, and over two days become different people. Unrated
CAST Rin Takanashi, Tadashi Okuno, Ryo Kase
BOTTOM LINE Masterful filmmaking bridges a few gaps in the narrative. (In Japanese with English subtitles)