Movies Reviews

Abbas Kiarostami has always had an experimental streak, but he’s never indulged it as much as he does in his new film, Five, which consists of opening credits and five long shots of nature. That’s it. For each shot, Kiarostami points his video camera at the ocean or a reflection of the moon in a pond, and holds it for 10 to 15 minutes. A few seconds of music open and close each segment, which otherwise sound like water lapping the beach, frogs croaking or thunder in the distance. And each segment, after saying its piece, fades to black or white.

And you know what? It’s a nice piece of work. It’s the kind of movie that succeeds when you’re willing to let your mind wander the way it does when you watch clouds. Maybe you’ll close your eyes and just listen for a bit. Maybe you’ll nod off. I doubt if Kiarostami would object; he even said once that he enjoys movies that are so calm they make you sleepy but give you something to reflect on later.

Of course Five may also raise the ire of would-be hecklers in the audience. The director has some gall to show the beach for 10 minutes! Anyone could do that! This is true, but it doesn’t lessen the worth of spending a few minutes watching the waves. Some folks may think the film is pretentious, but I’m always saddened by the narrow box movies are expected to fit into. When I go to a bookstore I see thousands of books on thousands of subjects written in thousands of different styles, but the movie theater in the very same mall feels like a bookstore where someone has torched everything but the mysteries, sci-fi novels, chick lit, and comic books. Five doesn’t fit into those categories.

The full title of the movie is Five: Five Long Takes Dedicated to Yasujiro Ozu, which is confounding since nothing in the popular Japanese filmmaker’s body of work is even remotely like this. Nevertheless, since Kiarostami planted the idea in my head with his opening title, I thought of Ozu as I watched the driftwood sitting on the beach. Gradually, the tide rises enough to nudge the wood, and it breaks into two pieces, the larger of which is carried away by the waves. In Ozu’s Late Spring, a father and daughter are both riding a streetcar when the young woman steps off to go shopping. Ozu chooses to follow the daughter, and so his camera gets off the streetcar with her. Kiarostami chooses the small chunk of wood and stays with it on the beach. But like the father in Late Spring, the large chunk isn’t gone—a few minutes later it comes back into view. Was Kiarostami thinking of Late Spring when he made Five? If he was, one of us is psychic. But the joy of an open-ended movie like this is what you bring to it.

I wouldn’t want Kiarostami to abandon narrative filmmaking forever, but Five is a welcome diversion. You could liken Five to recent albums by Wilco and Radiohead that boldly resist the narrow box of pop music. But where music works through repetition, most movies are seen only once. They get precious few chances to plant something in your head, and I can think of far worse things to stick in your brain than five contemplative shots of nature.

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