Sunday, May 22, 2005

Review - Five Dedicated to Ozu

In his 2002 film Ten, Abbas Kiarostami stripped down his film to the bare essentials. Two cameras were fixed to the dashboard of a woman’s car, one facing the driver and one on the passenger, and the film consisted of ten conversations which took place in that environment. And that was it, simple yet effective.

However, it obviously wasn’t simple enough for Kiarostami’s liking. A reduction in the number of the title isn’t the only difference in Five, Kiarostami’s latest experiment. This one has no dialogue, no narrative and (on first glance) no editing. The film is made up of five sequences where a camera is pointed at a scene and we watch what unfolds in front of it. This is often not much; a piece of driftwood on a beach, some dogs in the distance, a moon reflected in water. Occasionally there is a flurry of activity, where some ducks or people wander across the screen, but that’s as animated as things get.

In the first scene of Five, a handheld camera follows a piece of driftwood on a beach as it is buffeted by the waves. In the second, the camera is fixed on a promenade and a number of people walk in front of it going about their daily business; a couple of them stop to chat. For the third we are back on the beach, watching a group of dogs in the distance as the sun’s glare seems to gradually grow. Part four is the most purely enjoyable, a very funny episode in which a group of ducks make their way along the beach. And finally, the longest part of the whole film is the one in which we see least. The reflection of the moon on the surface of the water is all we are given, but the soundtrack is full of activity as the various calls of frogs, insects and birds build to a cacophony.

The effect is disorienting, beautiful, soporific and quite unlike anything I’ve seen in a cinema before. In truth, it can hardly be classified as a film at all, being closer in spirit to a video installation in an art gallery (something Kiarostami has also dabbled in). Kiarostami has attempted to take the influence of the director away from the film and let nature take its course but this is not an entirely true analysis of events, as there is manipulation evident at many points.

Clearly, Kiarostami is pulling the strings on a couple of these sequences. The ducks change direction and quack on cue, the dogs are kept in place by some means, and isn’t it strange that the people in part 2 walk across in such fixed straight lines? Or am I now seeing manipulation where there is none? The most heavily edited piece is the final night scene which was actually shot over a number of nights to encompass a thunderstorm and daybreak, but knowing there are cuts present and actually spotting them are different matters entirely.

So what is the point of all this? Are we supposed to read some sort of meaning into these images, or just take them at face value and enjoy them? Kiarostami doesn’t claim any sort of hidden agenda or subtext but each viewer will undoubtedly take something different from the film. I found it to be an intriguing piece of work. It’s a calming experience which will only work if you completely surrender yourself to it, and there is also the genuine pleasure in seeing a filmmaker of Kiarostami’s standing throwing all the conventions of cinema to the wind and trying to truly take the art form into new areas. Of course, the idea of watching a 74 minute film in which almost nothing happens would be anathema to many cinemagoers, but the curious viewer, approaching the film with patience and imagination, will find much here to treasure.