“Elements which can be eliminated have been eliminated” is how Abbas Kiarostami once described his late turn toward minimalism. While the Iranian director was known for the intricate, metatextual playfulness of his work, he also spent much of his career trying to achieve a certain purity of expression, one that he at first found more readily in his photographs and his poetry. “I want my films to become closer to my photography and more distant from storytelling,” he said in a 2000 interview, and the ensuing decade and a half would prove pivotal in that effort.
Especially after his embrace of digital video in the early 2000s, Kiarostami sought a closer equilibrium between film, poetry, and photography. Though his career had already gone through several mutations, he now truly became the great shape-shifter of international cinema, constantly experimenting with form and technique. He even talked of trying to erase the author from his work; he delighted in the fact that he was rarely anywhere near the cameras for his improvisatory, mesmerizing 2002 docu-fiction hybrid Ten, set entirely within one Tehran woman’s car. As a result, many of his efforts from these later years betray a curious tension—between the powerful sense of perspective that had always been a defining trait of Kiarostami’s films and a desire to cede control, to open up the frame to the reality around it—as can also be found in 2003’s Five, which consists of a series of static shots in which Kiarostami had little control over what would happen within the frame, and 2010’s Certified Copy, in which the very nature of a couple’s relationship changes as they travel through Tuscany, almost as if it is being rewritten and reimagined over the course of the film.
Kiarostami’s final work, 24 Frames (2017), may be his most powerful and daring exploration of this tension, its very conception bearing out the conflict between control and expansiveness. The film is composed of twenty-four segments, each of which involves a still image—a painting in one instance, photographs in the others—that has been “brought to life” through digital means. Kiarostami spoke of wanting to capture the moments before and after a photograph was taken. To that end, he labored for three years with his close collaborator Ali Kamali, layering each still with animation, stock footage, and images he himself directed, sometimes even bringing in actors. Together, they created around sixty “frames.” At the time of his death in July 2016, Kiarostami had narrowed these down to thirty and established a rough order. His son Ahmad Kiarostami helped finish the project.
“By the end, it is as if a whole world has been opened up—as if our very understanding of cinema has changed.”
“While there may not be many actual humans in 24 Frames, it is nevertheless one of Kiarostami’s most humanist works.”
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