2018, NR, 114 min. Directed by Abbas Kiarostami.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Feb. 23, 2018
The final film by Iran’s master filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami (Taste of Cherry, Certified Copy) is the experimental endeavor 24 Frames, which had been underway for three years prior to Kiarostami’s death from cancer in 2016. As such, since Kiarostami knew this was likely to be his last movie, there is an inescapably elegiac quality to 24 Frames’ concentrated meditation on image-making. Yet the film is less a final statement than a focused study of how we make meaning from images. The effect it creates in the viewer is sometimes contemplative and sometimes somniferous. Moments of revelation and delight are punctuated by stretches of seemingly repetitive exercises. 24 Frames is a classically Kiarostami work, indicative of his life’s curiosities and trademark inquiries, but far short of a culminating utterance.
24 Frames is a compilation of 24 vignettes based on 23 photographs taken by Kiarostami and one famous painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. (Although he is best known as a filmmaker, Kiarostami was also an accomplished photographer, painter, and poet.) Each section lasts approximately 4½ minutes, and as Kiarostami states in the film’s preface, his goal is to re-create “what I imagined might have taken place before or after each image that I had captured.” (Curiously, this bucks the conventional notion that photography’s essence is a freeze-framed distillation of a particular moment in time.) Most of the photographs are black-and-white images of nature, often observed through a window or some other framing device. To these images, digital birds, horses, goats, cows, and foxes are inserted, along with rolling waves on beaches, passing vehicles on streetscapes, lots of snow and rain, and all their attendant sounds. Occasionally, themes of companionship, death, and love emerge – but not always. Kiarostami’s lifelong professional concern with the separation between the real and the unreal also comes into play. His digitization process is often evident, creating a constant awareness in the viewer that the images have been manipulated. Birds come and go on tree branches or windowsills (there are a lot of birds!). They squawk, stare, bicker, and flock. That’s about the extent of their activity. Only two “frames” include images of live human beings, and birds (notwithstanding the Hitchcock film) are not usually terribly exciting protagonists. Sometimes, a bird is shot from the sky, horses copulate, a cat magnificently emerges from out of frame to catch an unwary bird, and you find yourself catching your breath from the pastoral before and deathly after. The opening scene of the Bruegel painting includes smoke that provides a sense of an entire village scene, and Kiarostami’s concluding sequence is a truly glorious thing – and the closest the film comes to a personal declaration – and completely worth the price of muddling through the other 23 “frames.”
24 Frames is a must for longtime Kiarostami observers (and that should include all cinephiles), although unlikely to inspire any new converts. Amid the rustle of the trees and bird caws, I imagined I heard a sound in the dim distance calling for “more cowbell.”