Even coming from a famously oblique filmmaker, “Like Someone in Love,” the newest from Abbas Kiarostami (“Taste of Cherry”), is an elusive puzzle. The second feature that takes the director away from his native Iran, as did 2010’s “Certified Copy,” his latest deals with questions of role-playing and identity shifts.
Rin Takanashi plays Akiko, a onetime small-towner relocated to Tokyo, where she divides her time as a university student and a call girl. The latter occupation lands her one night in the book-stuffed apartment of an elderly professor and translator, Takashi (Tadashi Okuno). While she coyly tries to lure him into his bedroom, he’d prefer to serve her a glass of wine and a bowl of shrimp soup he’s made especially for her.
While the usual roles of prostitute and client are already thrown off track, things get even fuzzier the next day. While dropping her off at school, Takashi sees Akiko confronted by her jealous, controlling boyfriend (Ryo Kasewho doesn’t know about his fiancée’s moneymaking sideline. Lurking around outside the building, the young mechanic starts chatting with Takashi, whom he mistakes for Akiko’s grandfather. Takashi doesn’t dissuade him, and gives some relationship advice while seeing for himself that this is not a couple with a healthy future.
This summary may make the movie sound simpler than it is. Kiarostami carries us through the narrative with quietly engrossing tactics. He lets events unfold in real time — Akiko riding through neon-smeared Tokyo in a taxi, or Takashi preparing a meal in his kitchen. There’s a weirdly seductive pleasure in the ways the film indulges in mundane rituals. But it withholds rewards we expect from most movies: clear character development, a story arc, resolution. “Like Someone in Love” feels more like a short story than a narrative feature — and even so, a story that abruptly ends rather than reaching a satisfying conclusion. Fans of the enigmatic will feel sated; everyone else will leave feeling shortchanged.
“Like Someone in Love.” With Tadashi Okuno, Rin Takanashi. Written and directed by Abbas Kiarostami. 109 minutes. In Japanese with subtitles. Unrated. At Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.