When the Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami was last at the Cannes Film Festival two years ago, he brought with him one of his more crowd-pleasing efforts, “Certified Copy,” a two-hander set in Tuscany, and his first film with a movie star (Juliette Binoche, who won the festival’s best actress prize). Mr. Kiarostami is back this year with another film shot outside Iran, the Japanese-language “Like Someone in Love,” about the enigmatic, subtly shape-shifting relationship between a young woman and an old man in Tokyo, but the reception has been quite different.
Speaking in Farsi through a translator and clad in his signature sunglasses, Mr. Kiarostami discussed his new film in an interview on a rainy Tuesday morning here at a beachside restaurant. Edited excerpts from the conversation follow (his first two responses contain mild spoilers about the film’s final shot):
Q. A lot of people here are talking about the ending of your film, so it’s worth noting that its original title was “The End.” Why did you first call it that?
A. When I was writing the script I wasn’t thinking about a title. But then came this scene where the stone breaks the window. All of a sudden I wrote “The End,” in English, and the version of “The End” that came to my mind was that of the title at the end of classic black-and-white American films, even down to the font. I’m not sure why I had this phrase and this image in mind, but I thought, O.K., this can be a temporary title and that shot would be a temporary ending. I sent the script to my translator and producer and expected them to tell me that this is not an end to the story, and if they had, I would have asked for time to find a better ending. But they didn’t, and I gradually realized I was unable to add anything more. I also thought the title was close to the theme of my film, to the character of the old professor.
Q. How did you settle on “Like Someone in Love” instead? We hear the Ella Fitzgerald song of that name at a pivotal moment.
The phrase itself sounds good to me too. There is nothing determined and definitive about love. It’s better to say that we are like someone in love rather than asserting that we are in love. Death or birth are definitive; love is nothing but an illusion. We have in this film four people who are like some people in love.
In the beginning you’re overhearing a conversation at a bar and gradually you see someone sitting at another table, overhearing the secrets between two people. If someone enters the theater even five seconds after the film has started, they might think they’ve missed a quarter of it. That’s where the mystery comes from: we begin in the middle of things, and the viewer’s mind must be active all the time to understand what’s going on and to have the pleasure of discovery of putting together the pieces of the puzzle and participating in the building of the movie.
I don’t mean to create a distance from the spectator; I want to remind them that they should have the same inquiring spirit for films as in life. If you’re curious you will definitely find enough information – you don’t need more, and whenever we’re given more, we don’t accept it. A good example is pornographic films, which give us too much. That’s not the way it is in real life: it goes against emotions, feelings, sex even. Too much information is a kind of pornography.
This was not really an intention but there was also an assumption in Iran that I was Westernized [after making “Certified Copy”] and at least now that can be denied with this Easternized film. Last night on the red carpet I was thinking to myself that I’ve been coming here for 20 years but this is the first time with Japanese actors and I feel more alienated than ever. People thought after coming with Juliette Binoche I would be a popular director working with bigger stars. But I’d rather go backwards and make the more Ozu-like films I was making at Kanoon [the Institute for the Cognitive Development of Children and Young Adults, where Mr. Kiarostami ran the film department in the late ’60s and early ’70s] at the beginning of my career. Maybe this shows I’m not a very progressive filmmaker.
Via The New York Times