Potential Space

by Jane Reingold, MFT, Impulse Staff Writer


Abbas Kiarostami's film Like Someone in Love opens with a static shot in a noisy bar with offscreen voices conversing. A woman is speaking, arguing with a man, her boyfriend, but it is unclear who she is -- she is at once familiar and yet unknown. A woman is then referred to off camera, and slowly the audience orients. This poetic meandering sets the psychological frame for the film. We are on the outside looking in, but also on the inside, intimately entwined in the relationships and identities forming and unfolding. There are gaps we are left to contemplate and relationships that are not what they seem.

Akiko, a student who moonlights as an escort, is sent by her pimp to see a new client, a renowned professor of Sociology. She is gently coerced into going, having to forsake her grandmother in the process. Akiko is isolated, lonely, remote. What begins as a transactional relationship morphs into something very different.

Drawn together through an identification in each other of regret and longing, the two find solace in one another. In the safety of contained spaces, the two revel in a newfound, familial, grandfather-granddaughter relationship in which both find a soothing, potential space where they both feel met, loved and needed. We are temporarily lulled by the as-if relationship, the yearning for it to be real. Along the way, reality intrudes -- multiple calls to the professor's house, a neighbor alluding to the professor's estrangement from his family and a past tragedy, the rantings and physical threats of a violent boyfriend -- and to keep it at bay, duplicity ensues when the professor tells the fiancé he is Akiko's actual grandfather.

The silent rumbling of violence threatens this bubble and is a reminder of what cannot be spoken to, of what is being kept out of awareness. The danger of what lurks beyond the frame is perhaps the danger of being truly seen; to be with both dependence and separateness. As Ruszczynski (2006) aptly states, "[b]y its nature violence is not amenable to understanding -- the fact of it being enacted suggests an experience could not be thought about or contained through symbolization -- it had to be expressed through the body" (p. 107).

As tensions mount, Akiko's fiancé's escalatory rage builds to a fury and a window is shattered, laying bare the "as-if" bubble. The fantasy world that Akiko and the professor created can't hold up despite the authenticity of their connection. As the title alludes to, all the relationships in the film are approximations filled with moments of connection, but mostly built on fantasy, projections, lies, and misunderstandings. And in the end we are left with the residue of the fiance's "...vicious and ceaseless oscillation between colonizing closeness and abandoning separateness" (Ruszczynski, ibid, p. 112).

Ruszczynski, S. (2006). Sado-masochistic enactments in a couple relationship: The fear of intimacy and the dread of separateness.Psychoanalytic perspectives on couple work. London: SCPP.