Cannes 2017: Abbas Kiarostami’s 24 Frames

“Cinema lost one of its pre-eminent pioneers when Abbas Kiarostami died on July 4, 2016,” writes Giovanni Marchini Camia at the Film Stage, where he notes that 24 Frames “was as good as finished” at the time of his passing. We’ll return to this review in a moment, but first, we need to pass along some good news from Variety’s Elsa Keslassy: French distributor MK2 Films has acquired all rights to Kiarostami’s first twenty films. “Under the agreement—signed with the Institute Kanoon (Institut iranien pour le Développement Intellectuel des Enfants et des Adolescents), MK2 will restore the 20 films of Kiarostami in 4K. Among the acquired titles are Where is My Friend’s Home,And Life Goes On, and The Traveler, Kiarostami’s first feature film.”

Second, we need to establish just what 24 Frames is. For that, we turn first to Barbara Scharres at “24 Frames is a simple yet profound work, composed of 24 short film sequences that Kiarostami created as the behind-the-scenes moving image accompaniment to still photographs he had composed. In the festival program booklet, his description includes the explanation, ‘I decided to use the photos I had taken through the years. I include 4 minutes 30 seconds of what I imagined might have taken place before or after each image that I had captured.’ These short sequences, most in black-and-white, some in color, are breathtaking in the beauty of the photography, and startling in the acuteness and vibrant curiosity of the vision.”

“The first ‘frame’ is filled with Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s 1565 masterpiece The Hunters in the Snow, an oil painting that has been cited by filmmakers from Andrei Tarkovsky to Lars von Trier, which depicts hunters and their dogs returning home on a wintry day,” explains Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter. “As we admire the scene, smoke begins to rise from chimneys and a ‘real’ dog walks and sniffs around, even peeing against one of Bruegel’s trees. This touch of animation prepares the viewer for the next 23 frames, each taking one of the director’s acclaimed nature photos as its starting point.”

“Throughout 24 Frames, one grows more accustomed to the film's gentle, naturalistic pace as each new scene plays out and common themes emerge, as in romantically isolated people and animals struggling to exist and feel free within a larger group,” writes Simon Abrams at the House Next Door. “All the while, we glimpse and hear the passage of time in the gentle swaying of trees, and the repetitive chirping of birds.”

24 Frames is Kiarostami’s hushed portmanteau treatise on the past, present and future of cinema,” suggests David Jenkins at Little White Lies. “Some of these miniature dramas end with a simple lesson, harking back to the educational films the director made early in his career that were aimed largely at young people. Yet he always tries to remain within the bounds of the plausible, never straying into fantasy or anthropomorphism just because he can. And that’s one of the most intriguing things about the film: where multi-million dollar blockbuster productions now use this type of image manipulation to create digital/live action hybrid fantasies, Kiarostami is doing the same thing, but instead at the service of poetic reality.”

Back to Giovanni Marchini Camia: “Kiarostami’s exceptional talent as a filmmaker was devising formal experiments that helped him push further in his tireless enquiries into the human condition. That’s why when it came to his structuralist films, Homework and Ten were masterpieces, whereas Five paled in comparison to superficially similar works by the likes of Andy Warhol and James Benning. The same is true of 24 Frames, which, tragically, is not the swan song he deserves.”

“It’s a footnote on an incredible career—more of a photo collection than a movie,” adds A. A. Dowd at the A.V. Club.

“Yes,” writes the Guardian’s Xan Brooks,24 Frames is rigorously experimental; it demands patience and engagement. But this haunted ghost-film had me completely entranced.”

“It’s an elegantly oblique movie, even for Kiarostami, whose art thrums with quiet ethereal metaphor,” writes Variety’s Owen Gleiberman. “Yet now that he’s gone, I can report that parts of the film play very much like his statement from the beyond.”

24 Frames deserves to be received as more than just a footnote to Kiarostami’s body of work,” argues Bradley Warren at the Playlist. “Each successive shot is saturated in the director’s preoccupations and playfulness, but the film is first and foremost a work of cinema, and not the installation piece the synopsis suggests.”

For Steve Pond at TheWrap, this is “a truly poignant farewell from a master.”

Updates, 5/26: “In December 2015 he showed me nine of the four-and-a-half minute shorts he had already made,” recalls BFI programmer Geoff Andrew. These “included reworkings of classics by Bruegel, Picasso, Millet and Wyeth. But he had also made some films derived from his own photos, since he knew that it might be prohibitively expensive or impossible to obtain permission to use all of the paintings he’d originally wanted to re-work.” Now, of course, only the Bruegel is among the selection of twenty-four. “As the compilation stands, one might argue that 24 Frames is a little repetitive, yet there is much to savor . . . Modest as they are, they are still clearly the work of a truly distinctive artist, and to be cherished as a last gift to us.”

24 Frames may be the most experimental film ever shown at the festival,” suggests Daniel Kasman in the Notebook. “Reminiscent of the contemplative landscape films of American structuralist avant-garde filmmaker James Benning—which recently have also been imperceptibly digitally toyed with—each of Kiarostami’s animated photos creates a dialectical play between on and off screen space, flat horizontals (like a seaside fence) and deep movement on the z-axis (crashing waves), and the tension and anticipation of what you hear and what you see.”

“The most poignant point in the film occurs in the last frame,” writes Ali Moosavi for Film International. “It is a black and white photo of a window, taken by Kiarostami. On the window sill he has added a photo frame showing a clip from a classic B&W film of a two lovers embracing, with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Love Never Dies’ playing in the background. The clip is shown in super slow motion, and when it finishes and The End title flashes on the photo frame, one realizes that this is indeed the end for a master of cinema.”

Update, 5/29: For IndieWire’s David Ehrlich, “like just about all of Kiarostami’s work, it thrives in the rift between dreams and waking life, between artifice and reality; it movingly illustrates how cinema’s true power is not to identify that divide, but rather to erase it.”

Update, 7/4: Writing for Cinema Scope,Blake Williams argues that 24 Frames “rejuvenates cinema’s ties to Impressionism by allowing the virtual to have its way with reality.”

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