Ozu by way of Iran: Kiarostami's "Five Dedicated to Ozu" is now on DVD from Kino International/Kimstim.

Kiarostami Firsts, Plus "Five"

Judy Stone February 26, 2008

Abbas Kiarostami has won many awards, from the Palme d’Or at Cannes to the Akira Kurosawa Lifetime Achievement award at the 2000 San Francisco International. Most surprising to anyone not familiar with the director’s work is that he has achieved it all without the help of professional actors. But that’s about to change, as the legendary director is embarking on a project with Juliette Binoche. Certified Copy was supposed to have begun shooting in March in Italy, but has been postponed until May, 2009, to accomodate schedules.

In the meantime, the director is completing work on his new feature, Shirin, based on a legendary Persian love story about an emperor’s wife who gave her heart to a humble lover, Ferhad, with tragic results. Starring in this one, Kiarostami told me in a telephone conversation, “will be 110 Iranian women from the ages of 18 to 80.”

And in another leap, the Iranian director will be directing an opera: Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte for the Theatre de l’Archeveche in Aix-en-Provence in France in July. The Salzburg Camerata Orchestra will be conducted by Christophe Rousset. According to the web site of Darius Kadivar, the idea of staging the opera was suggested to Kiarostami by Bernard Foccroulle, the Belgian director of the Lyrical French Festival. Kiarostami told the Agence French Presse that he first declined, saying “I am not worthy.” Then he added, “The more I got to learn about the opera, the more I realized the universality of the themes in Cosi fan tutte. In a sense, as artists, we all play music but with different instruments. Now that I experienced this change I find that it is no different from directing a film.”

For Kiarostami’s fans—and those perplexed by his films—fresh insight into the director is offered in a remarkable DVD featuring “Five,” a quiet experimental, meditative film set on the shores of the Caspian sea, along with Kiarostami’s own commentary. Combining his interest in poetry, photography and cinema, Kiarostami first confounds expectations with his initially surprising, noisy shots. He then explores two different approaches to filming and uncovering the hidden story in a piece of wood cast up by the sea, the heretofore unsuspected motivations of dogs playing along the shore and the individuality of hundreds of ducks marching on the sands. As a director who always asks the audience to supply their own interpretations of his non-narrative films, he here urges viewers to use their imagination to discover the mysteries of nature and life. With a sly sense of enjoyment, he recalls an anecdote about an Indian maharajah’s invention of a chess game to present to an Iranian ruler whose wise advisor in turn invents a backgammon game that allows—unlike chess—for the power of destiny or fate in one’s life and work. Indeed, fate plays a part in the interplay of moon and clouds that took several months to shoot. Along with frequent poetic references, he mentions his kinship with Ozu’s humanist simplicity and reveals his own fear of crowds and the need to protect his solitude.

Contrasting the role of the director when he’s also the audience, he tells about taking a nap while the camera rolled and the subsequent scene offered its surprise. One of the greatest, most unpredictable directors in the world also urges his viewers to do the same.

“Five” is available at Le Video or through the DVD distributor, Kino International (co-distributing with Kimstim) in New York.