Master filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami ruminates on time, art and image with final film
24 Frames (2018)
Directed by Abbas Kiarostami
Iranian master filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami died in July of 2016 leaving behind a legacy of quietly observational, deeply humanistic films—among them 1992’s Life, and Nothing More…, 1997’s Taste of Cherry, 1999’s The Wind Will Carry Us and 2010’s Certified Copy. Now his final work, the oblique but artful 24 Frames, is hitting select theaters for a posthumous run. The film—appropriately enough—serves as an experimental rumination on photography, film and the very art of observation.
The fundamental technical difference between still photography and motion pictures is one of volume. Movies, after all, are little more than a very large collection of still photographs. Run through a single projector at a rate of 24 frames per second, they create the illusion of movement. Thanks to something known as “persistence of vision,” our eyes fill in the gaps in those 24 frames and our brains trick us into thinking we’re watching full, real-life motion. The distinction between photography and film, then, is the introduction of the X axis, the illusion of time.
Kiarostami evidently began what became 24 Frames by speculating on great works of art. Paintings are designed to capture one specific moment in time. What, he wondered, happened immediately before and after those famous “freeze frames” that the artists chose? In making 24 Frames, Kiarostami drifted from paintings to photographs. (Perhaps the idea of toggling back and forth in a Hieronymus Bosch composition was just too daunting.) The celebrated filmmaker chose 24 of his own personal photographs and “recreated” them, stretching each—through video, animation and computer manipulation—into a five-or-so-minute work of moving picture art. (In choosing exactly 24 of these “frames” to explore, Kiarostami furthers the theme/insider joke of 24 frames per second.) The end result is faintly artificial, like an optical illusion sprung to life. But perhaps that’s the point.
Each of Kiarostami’s wide-angle photographs—the majority of which are composed in dreamy black and white—stares out into a natural world buffeted by wind or snow or rain. The “camera” stays locked down and does not move. Animals—deer, cows, dogs and, most often, birds—intrude into the frames, creating different compositions with their wanderings and groupings. Music and incidental sounds further suck observers into each tiny tableau, but that’s the extent of the experiment.
This is no narrative film. Nor is it a documentary. It plays out more like a museum installation. With its tightlipped silence as to purpose, meaning and motivation, 24 Frames asks a lot of its audience. Viewers are challenged to patiently take in each faintly shifting frame, bringing their own artistic interpretation to the slow parade of images. Snow drifts, leaves shift, crows move. It is, to say the least, a Zen experience. But as the mind of the viewer begins to wander, miniature stories take hold. Fairy tale minglings of animals and nature might make you strain your eyes for a glimpse of Little Red Riding Hood in the corners of each frame. Or not. It’s really up to you.
If you’re not already deeply interested in photography, film or the philosophy of art, then 24 Frames is definitely not going to be to your liking. This is the work of a late-period master with nothing left to prove. It requires persistence, perception and a certain amount of self-motivation to appreciate. Art, after all, is in the eye of the beholder.