This truly is the cinema of the meditative bird-watcher. At 74 minutes, Abbas Kiarostami’s five-segment experiment in digital cinema is a work of sublime simplicity – more reductive even than his last feature, ‘Ten’. Its subject – although such a word feels redundant in the context of such a radical work – is nature itself.
First, we watch as a static camera captures a series of waves as they break on the shore, with only sand and surf in shot. It’s hallucinatory stuff as a lone piece of driftwood moves back and forth. Next up, strangers walk along the coastline, each one making a grand entrance stage-left or right. Then, shot from a greater distance, we see a dog playing by the sea. Or is it a cow? Kiarostami intensifies the light levels to distort our vision, whitening the view as if a nuclear holocaust has arrived. Is this the bright light you see in those peaceful moments before death, a happy life lived? Then come the ducks, a gaggle of feathered friends waddling in and out of the shot, eliciting the purest of comedy from the barest of scenarios. Finally, an odder, initially indecipherable segment turns out to be the reflection on water of the moon at night as frogs (or toads?) make an awful racket in the background.
‘Five’ demands total immersion. For that reason, Kiarostami’s latest film belongs in the cinema, not the gallery, even though its lack of traditional narrative and experimental form are suggestive of the world of video art. Yes, ‘Five’is demanding, but strangely so, considering it’s a work of such wonderful minimalism.