The Franco-German TV channel Arte is showing Abbas Kiarostami’s film, 24 Frames. The film is available to watch in Europe on their website for a limited time. This is an occasion to revisit or discover Kiarostami’s last film.
The first film I ever saw directed by Abbas Kiarostami was Shirin. At the last minute, I saw it was the last day of its showing at the British Film Institute in London, and so I went. I found myself astounded, stunned by the audacity, the brilliance in this filmmaker. The film showed women’s faces, sitting in a cinema theatre, watching a film. We hear the soundtrack but never the images of the film they are seeing. Kiarostami is an artist that questions its own medium. Watching his films, I find myself always asking the same question, that famous question that André Bazin asked: what is cinema?
What is cinema today? This is what 24 Frames questions. This was Abbas Kiarostami’s last film. He sadly passed away in July 2016 during its making, and his son finished the film following his father’s notes. 24 Frames opens by explaining its premise. Kiarostami has taken twenty-four still images—a painting and photographs—and has animated them to recreate the moment before and after the images were taken. “Painters capture only one frame of reality and nothing before or after it,” the opening text tells us. Each “frame” lasts around four minutes and consists of one long fixed take. The frame only moves once in a traveling as the shot looks to be within a moving car.
The film begins with Pieter Bruegel’s 1565 painting The Hunters in the Snow. The still image starts to move as smoke undulates out of a chimney. A dog later walks along the foreground, pissing against a tree. This first frame is the only painting in the film and illustrates the techniques that will be used in the subsequent frames. These frames are not a record of reality like one could say of the Lumière brothers’ first short actuality films. Each action is an animation created on a computer.
Nothing much happens in each of these static frames. There is no dialogue. Two birds crow in front of a window, a tide comes in as cows walk passed a beach, a cat catches a bird. Each frame is a contemplation of an imagined world. It would seem that the film is devoid of a storyline, and yet narratives inevitably creep in each frame. However, each of these narratives is initiated by the spectator. The image of a group of people facing the Eiffel tower, for example, can create a connection to one’s own personal memories of going to Paris.
The film questions the essence of cinema, now that it has computer-generated images at its disposal. The twenty-four frames which the title refers to are the twenty-four images that constitute a second in traditional cinema. It recalls Jean-Luc Godard’s famous adage that cinema is truth twenty-four times a second. Kiarostami’s film here contends that this is still the case. By opening with a painting, the film suggests that cinema can now be closer to the truth of paintings. Cinema is no longer attached to a truth that equates to recorded reality. As Orson Welles had pointed out in his F is for Fake, art lies to realize the truth. The film’s twenty-fourth frame shows a person asleep in front of a computer screen. The last images of The Best Years of our Lives are playing in slow motion on the computer screen. It is a recognizable image of traditional Hollywood cinema. This evocation to a past cinema contrasts with Kiarostami’s film and suggests how technological advancements may have changed the medium.
Showcasing his work as a filmmaker and photographer, 24 Frames is a meditation on time and existence. The Franco-German channel Arte offers an incredible opportunity in making this experimental film available to watch.