Framing A Life: Abbas Kiarostami’s Final Film
If you know the name of one Iranian filmmaker, chances are it is that of Abbas Kiarostami - he of the humane vistas, the delicate (and sometimes indelicate) probing of private life in Iran.
In a career that spanned more than 50 years, longer than that of the current republic that eventually banned some of his work (an “honor” shared by a number of Iranian filmmakers, including Jafar Panahi), Kiarostami touched on love, suicide, the trial of a true film aficionado, and the tumultuous inner life of people caught between the strictures of desire and society.
His lush landscapes and finely drawn portraits of women, children and others just on the edges of Iranian society earned him a place as a master of Iranian film and placed Iranian film squarely in the middle of the world cinema map.
It seems fitting then, that “24 Frames,” Kiarostami’s final film, feels like an homage and an elegy to the filmmaker, who died in 2016 at the age of 76 while working on this and several other projects.
“24 Frames” is both meditation and quotation, a return to the beginnings of film and the cautiously exuberant explorations of the digital outer lands. It starts, appropriately enough, with a painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Hunters in the Snow.
A story, a landscape, a combination of rural and city. An allegory? Why Bruegel? Is it about hunting images? Stories?
And then, it happens.
The Bruegel awakes.
And that’s just “Frame One.”
As the film continues, there is more snow. Lots of it, in fact, and woods and beaches, and lovely framing of window frames with birds flitting in and out and cows on a beach ambling by, each titled segment a “frame” lasting about four and half minutes.
What becomes clear by “Frame Three,” hinted at by the shininess of some of the imagery, is that the frame being referenced is a frame of still film. The 24 refers to the number of frames in a film second (a video second is 29.5) and that Kiarostami has layered the film frames and animated the layers to the point where real and not real seem merely trivial concerns.
“24 Frames” then is the perfect meeting of Kiarostami’s interest in photography (mostly black and white), art, and the intersection of real and the imagined real. The film is less a narrative and more like one of the poetic films of the experimental 1920s. The music is lovely, “Un bel di vedremo,” from "Madama Butterfly," Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Love Never Dies” finished out the film over a lovely framing of a film within a frame running as the editor dozes.
Some may see the film as a meditation on death, but it seems more a meditation on beauty, the need for the eye to see what is around us, and the secret lives of nature and simple human beingness - the loveliness of which brings a calming ache to the viewer.
The work is also a posthumous collaboration between Kiarostami pere and fils. While the animator, Ali Kamali worked long hours with Kiarostami to get the layers to breath, it was Ahmad Kiarostami, who locked the final compilation in Canada, bringing to completion a piece he has said in interviews, that was his father’s constant labor of love, so comprehensive is it of all the things that interested him.
While “24 Frames” does not offer the sometimes quirky narrative viewers have come to expect of Kiarostami, nonetheless, there is a sort of narrative- if you need it- in the repeated elements and movement that move from frame to frame. And if not, then you can sit back and let the “frames” with their snippets of story flow through you.
Either way, it’s a lovely piece and a mesmerizing resting finale to a body of extraordinary work.
“24 Frames" screens at the Digital Gym through May 3.
Goes well with
"Close Up," Abbas Kiarostami, 1990
"Taste of Cherry," Abbas Kiarostami, 1997
"Certified Copy," Abbas Kiarostami, 2010