24 Frames (2017)

Kiarostami leaves us with a work of indelible beauty, continuing his fascination with the phenomenology of cinema and its relation to the ephemeral.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Dir. Abbas Kiarostami
2017 | Iran | Experimental | 114 mins | 1.78:1 | No dialogue
PG (passed clean)

Plot:  A collection of 24 short four-and-a-half minute shots inspired by still images, including paintings and photographs.
Awards: Official Selection (Cannes)
International Sales: CG Cinema

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Abstract/Existential
Narrative Style: Elliptical/Vignette
Pace: Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: The Arts House – Singapore International Festival of Arts 2018 (Singular Screens)
First Published: 4 July 2018
Spoilers: No

A posthumous work from Abbas Kiarostami, who sadly passed on in 2016, 24 Frames was made possible by his son Ahmad Kiarostami, who consulted his father’s production notes and realised his vision of a film that would transcend the process of it coming into being. 

In other words, it is a work that exudes the omnipresence of its would-be creator. The elder Kiarostami had always been interested in pushing the boundaries of cinema to become alive with storytelling and visual possibilities, while at the same time, his works carry a deep sense of humanism. 

One could see 24 Frames as a continuation of the filmmaker’s preoccupation with experimentation—through form, structure and ways of seeing that first caught international attention in his audacious Close-Up (1990), and later on, in films such as Ten (2002), Five Dedicated to Ozu (2003) and Shirin (2008).

Conceptually, 24 Frames is very precise: the entire film has 24 shots, or ‘frames’ as it is called here, each lasting about four-and-a-half minutes long (though I didn’t bother to test if this was really true). 

Each frame is still and carefully composed, but there is movement within it.  Sometimes the movement or change is subtle or incidental; at other times it could be what I would describe as being in ephemeral flow.

Kiarostami was always fond of depicting human beings and their relationship with rural or urban landscapes in moving cars or motorcycles, not to mention his trust in photographic realism. 

Therefore, it shouldn’t have to feel uncanny to see 24 Frames when it operates—with the exception of Frame 1, which is an animated rendering of Pieter Bruegel’s famous painting “The Hunters in the Snow”—as if they were shots taken by a photographer who incidentally also left his video record function on, if not for the film’s obvious reliance on CG effects and animation.

At times, it feels like you are watching a digital screensaver, which is a sacrilegious thing to say, but I don’t mean to imply that this is a work of artificiality and pretension, even if some critics may likely to take that view.  

24 Frames is a film that is greater than the sum of its parts, and even though it could get tedious in its ascetic adherence to structural repetition, not to mention showing one too many frames of birds at sea or dogs in snow (frames of an urban nature sometimes provide welcome relief; so are frames with diegetic or non-diegetic music), once you find yourself absorbed in its indelible, infallible beauty, mundanity and all, it has a profound effect.

The more I think of 24 Frames, the more I like what I have seen, and I hope to see it again from time to time because it reminds me, albeit elegiacally, of a master filmmaker whose fascination with the phenomenological aspects of cinema made the medium so much more self-reflexive and thought-provoking in the last 30 years.

Grade: A-


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