Directed by Abbas Kiarostami
News of Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami’s death was met with sadness throughout the cinema world. While I have not seen many of the man’s great works, only catching the tail end of his career and appreciating Certified Copy and Like Someone in Love, failing to catch up with his older work, I still have a great appreciation for Kiarostami and his contribution to cinema. But perhaps my shallow knowledge of the man’s work sheds light on my reception of his last work before he died, 24 Frames, which was released posthumously. It is an abstract work which shows off his imagination, innovation, and ambition as a filmmaker. There are many lifelong fans who will welcome this final conversation with Kiarostami, and there is something beautiful about that sentiment.
The genre of this film is impossible to pin down. It’s not quite like anything I’ve ever seen. It may be closest to a documentary, inspired by a Pieter Bruegel painting and a number of photographs taken by Kiarostami himself, but that doesn’t quite fit what the filmmaker is doing here either. It’s a genre all its own, and perhaps left unclassified. The idea is what might happen before or after a still image is captured, whether by photograph or painting. Kiarostami imagines scenarios based on these immediate, singular moments. He does it 24 times, and therefore creates what amounts to 24 short films, each roughly 4-5 minutes in length comprised of a single shot, a single setting, a single scenario. It’s an inspiring idea to be certain.
But what merit does this experiment have? Certainly Kiarostami is dealing with great ideas. Filmmaking is all about storytelling, and in this concept, Kiarostami is telling a story, but also by extension, wondering what type of story is being told by the still image. When you walk around an art gallery or museum, how do you take in the painting, the photographs? Do you pause and think about the composition, what the artist is attempting to get you to feel, where they want your eye to travel? In essence, what story is trying to be told? Kiarostami ventures into both territories with 24 Frames, by interpreting a still image, and expanding it to include a short, moving story. He has created a photograph and a film both at the same time.
Yet this high concept failed to ever really work for me. Perhaps expectations are to blame, as I had high hopes for the types of stories that could be told using a single frame, and yet Kiarostami wanders into the much more reflective and passive realm with his interpretations. Quiet landscapes are filled with gentle snow falling, smoke slowly rising from chimneys, and birds chirping to fill the soundscape. If I had to see one more “frame” with snow and birds I would have walked out of the theater. I just didn’t find what Kiarostami was exploring all that interesting, or least of all diverse. To explore 24 different frames, I would have at least hoped he would select a greater variety of backdrops, and yet we get shots out of windows, or quaint landscapes throughout.
I cannot blame those who fall head over heels for this film and its ambitions, or those who find solace in spending one final film with a beloved filmmaker, but that is not what I experienced with 24 Frames, unfortunately. I look forward to looking back on the man’s filmography and uncovering great new discoveries to me with such beloved films as Taste of Cherry, or Close-Up, but this is not that film for me. It is not that final conversation with Kiarostami. I was nearly lulled to sleep by its slow, reflective pace and scenery, but at least I was inspired by its high concepts and intriguing questions raised by the idea behind the film. I just wish I was as inspired by what the film became, the frames actually presented to the audience.