American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
There is a shot about a third of the way through "Like Someone in Love" of a pretty, perky young lady emerging from an apartment bathroom a different woman. Her hair no longer tied up in a bun but falling wide at her shoulders, her feet bare, her legs no longer moving with girlish timidity but easing along in languid strides that show off their shapeliness. She moves down the hallway to the bedroom, turned away from the camera as the rustle of her simple dress fills the silence. An invitation.
The effect is nearly as jaw-dropping as the helicopter attack in "Apocalypse Now," a quiet demonstration of shock and awe. She's in the apartment of an elderly professor, and he wasn't expecting this. How did writer-director Abbas Kiarostami choose to convey this moment of attempted seduction? A tracking shot behind the woman's swaying hips? A slow pan up the curve of her calves as she slinks away? A panicked handheld shot of the professor reacting to this provocation? No, he just offers a steady view of her trip to the bedroom, letting the moment breathe softly into our ears. An Iranian, Kiarostami has learned from the restrictions his government imposed upon filmmakers how to convey sensuality and smoldering inner life in ways that would force a censor to confess to having a filthy mind.
Unlike many of his Iranian peers, Kiarostami didn't encounter much censorship during production of classics like "Close-Up" and "Taste of Cherry" but simply found some of his films banned. He once analyzed the situation: "I think they don't understand my films and so prevent them being shown just in case there is a message they don't want to get out."
That was when Kiarostami was still working in Iran. He started making films a decade before the Iranian Revolution but stayed for decades after many colleagues fled the authoritarian regime. His rationale was that not remaining rooted in one place would have an effect on his filmmaking like constantly uprooting and replanting a tree would have on its fruit. After directing nearly 50 "rooted" films, he's now roaming the earth. His 2010 masterpiece, "Certified Copy," was shot in Italy and this one takes place in Japan. Yet the tight formal control and discretion remain. These strange new entries in an already strange and unpredictable filmography are the harvest of 40 years.