Art and Experience: Cannes Film Festival screened ’24 Frames’ — the final film by the late Iranian film director Abbas Kiarostami — on Tuesday morning.
In memory of Kiarostami, the new experimental work ’24 Frames’ appeared as a special screening at the 70th Anniversary Events of Cannes Film Festival.
Kiarostami, the winner of the 1997 Palme d’Or for ‘Taste of Cherry’, died on July 4, 2016.
The session, which took place on Tuesday, was attended by his friends and his son Ahmad Kiarostami.
An article by Nicolas Rapolda on nytimes.com said ’24 Frames’ is among a few films, in various categories, that is expected to attract attention at Cannes Film Festival this week.
When Kiarostami died last July, cinema lost one of its contemporary masters and true originals. His final work, reportedly completed before his death, began with some photographs he took over the years.
Kiarostami once gave the following description of the film: “Each of these frames is in essence four minutes and 30 seconds of what I imagine to have transpired before and after a single image.”
’24 Frames’ is a collection of four-and-half-minute films that takes inspiration from still images, including paintings and his own photographs.
Kiarostami was one of the greatest directors who was able to extract the essence of the human soul throughout his career, leaving behind a number of essential films. For his last work, he directed the experimental project24 Frames, the Film Stage said.
Interestingly, Kiarostami began his career as a painter and then a graphic designer. His film career began only in 1969 and he later began shooting films abroad.
He died on July 4, 2016 in Paris, where he flew to for treatment for gastrointestinal cancer, which was diagnosed in March 2016.
The Guardian review: Abbas Kiarostami last came to Cannes competition in 2012 with Like Someone in Love, a head-scratching tease of a film, bowing out with a crash ending that left the audience hanging. At the time, the Iranian director was unrepentant; he said that cinema seats made an audience lazy and that question marks were “part of the punctuation of life”. Now, nearly a year after his death at the age of 76, Kiarostami is back – after a fashion – with a mesmerising sign-off. Belatedly, it seems, he has provided Cannes with an ending.
24 Frames was conceived as Kiarostami’s response to the paintings and photographs that inspired him, prompted by the desire to hold the frame steady so as to watch each image come to life, each drama play on. Except this project doesn’t feel like a homage, or even an act of curation. It’s something richer and stranger than that – almost as if, in the moment of death, the man’s unconscious has somehow poured out and been caught in a bottle. Yes, 24 Frames is rigorously experimental; it demands patience and engagement. But this haunted ghost-film had me completely entranced.
Kiarostami liked wind and waves, crows and snow, and these elements return again and again, like contract players in a recurring dream. People, by contrast, are largely notable by their absence. We see them scurrying along a Paris street, or steering a truck that breaks up the murder of crows. The implication is that their (our?) presence is an unwelcome distraction, disrupting a natural world that runs to its own mysterious rhythm. Frame 16, for instance, shows a small yellow motorboat being slowly nudged ashore by the tide while a gaggle of ducks gather at the tideline to scold it. These ducks are engaged in their own duck-like business. They can’t be doing with the arrival of this manmade gatecrasher.
Audaciously, posthumously, the director has even found a way to make a bonus of his hated cinema seats. While his 24 Frames may be arranged like pictures in a gallery, the seat holds us in place, requiring that we give equal time (four and a half minutes) to each one, resisting the urge to skip ahead or retrace our steps. Different spectators will have their own favourites. I worried that the digitised reproduction of Pieter Bruegel’s Hunters in the Snow (complete with smoking chimneys and yapping dogs) was a little crude and misplaced. Perhaps we could have also done without the scene of the noble lion having sex with its mate during an African thunderstorm, if only because it looks like a mural one might find inside one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces. But these barely mar the film’s overall effect, which is gorgeous and enigmatic. Watching it is akin to opening a series of nesting dolls, or leafing through a book of dreams.
What becomes of these pictures once the allotted timeframe is up, when we’re finally forced to move on? At the end of 24 Frames, the lights come up and the spectators spill into the Palais. They converse on the stairs, check the screening schedule, grab water from the dispenser. Life goes on, which is as it should be. But I suspect that we’ll carry many of those images out into the world, replaying them in quiet moments, still unpicking their mystery. Kiarostami has gone but the work lives on. His unconscious, I think, has infected us all.
Variety review: The final film by Abbas Kiarostami is a series of 24 segments that trances out on nature, cinema, and the death of a master.
What’s the most romantic song ever written? If I told you it was “Love Never Dies,” by Andrew Lloyd Webber (the title number from his unsuccessful 2010 musical), you’d probably say I was nuts. But when you come out of the theater after seeing “24 Frames,” the final film by Abbas Kiarostami, that song — which I had never heard before — takes up residence in your mental jukebox in a way that’s so haunting, for a while it crowds out all the other beauty you’ve heard.
“24 Frames” isn’t a narrative. It’s a series of 24 four-and-a-half-minute segments, most of them depicting animals in nature, each one unfolding inside a single static frame. “Love Never Dies,” performed by the Welsh singer Katherine Jenkins, is played during the final segment, which, coming after a lot of quieter ones, is a stunning and majestic Kiarostami statement about love, cinema, death, technology, censorship, and the 21st century. It is moving, it is cosmic, it is sublime. The rest of “24 Frames” doesn’t soar on that level, but it builds up to it, and it’s worth sitting through the entire movie to get there.
Kiarostami first revealed that he was making this film in 2015. He said that it consisted of 24 short films he’d been working on the previous three years, and it’s unclear what the final timetable was. Yet as you watch “24 Frames,” it’s nearly impossible to resist viewing elements of its meaning through the lens of Kiarostami’s death. (He died on July 4, 2016, of complications relating to gastrointestinal cancer. There has been controversy about his passing, with some having accused his medical team of mishandling his illness.)
Every director makes a final film, but there’s a small handful of artists who make their last film with the consciousness of that fact. Directors who’ve conceived their final films as overt or oblique swan songs include John Huston (“The Dead”), Ingmar Bergman (“Saraband”), and Robert Altman (“A Prairie Home Companion”). “24 Frames” feels like it belongs in that category. It’s an elegantly oblique movie, even for Kiarostami, whose art thrums with quiet ethereal metaphor. Yet now that he’s gone, I can report that parts of the film play very much like his statement from the beyond. That’s one reason why “24 Frames,” though it may seem too austere to have much of a chance in theaters, could find a life in the right ones.
The premise of “24 Frames” is that Kiarostami took 24 still images and, using copious and all-but-invisible digital technology, expanded each of them into a flowing live-action tableau, or (as the movie calls it) a Frame. The first one is actually a painting: Pieter Bruegel’s “The Hunters in the Snow,” from 1565, in which the chimneys of houses, after a while, emit plumes of smoke and one of the dogs of the hunters approaching a village breaks free and runs around and barks, finally peeing on a tree. It’s funny (which Kiarostami very rarely was), but then “24 Frames” shifts into a staid portraits-of-wildlife mode that becomes a meditative trance-out.
The images the movie is based on are almost all photographs taken over the years by Kiarostami. Most of them are black and white, and a lot of them depict beaches or woodlands in the middle of winter, with a lot of snow falling and some sort of animal — birds, cows, wolves, deer, lions — in nearly every one. Kiarostami was a splendid photographer, and each image, in its way, is breathtaking, but very little happens in most of the segments. They’re “narratives” spun out of thistledown. of A snowscape viewed through a half-open car window reveals a matching pair of dark horses who frolic and gambol, with old tango music playing on the car radio. The window of a bunker lets us spy on crows on the edge of a roadway, gathering to peck at bits of food, until a zooming motorcycle makes them flutter out of the way, and then they come back. In the middle of a blizzard, a group of goats press themselves, face forward in a packed circle, against a solitary tree.
You’re charmed by some of these sequences, and your mind is free to wander during others (which may be the idea). At times, it’s like watching the pastoral version of a James Benning film festival. At others, with all the starkly lovely imagery of trees in winter, “24 Frames” almost seems to be turning the aesthetic of Ansel Adams into a series of the world’s most lyrical screen savers. At rare points, I confess I found myself questioning the very idea of the movie — bringing photographs to life — since the whole premise of photography as an art form might be summed up as “a picture is worth a thousand frames.”
Yet Kiarostami isn’t just making hypnotic images; he’s communing with the audience (as he always did). There are a number of striking vistas of death: a member of a seagull flock gets shot out of the sky, and a fawn, after grazing in front of the entrance to a woods, is shot as well. Wolves, glimpsed from a distance, consume their prey, a panorama that’s only rendered more stark by the Currier and Ives crest of snow they’re on.
There are only two segments that have human beings in them, and you may wish that there were more. The first is a stunner, built around a photograph that remains a still photograph — of six elderly Muslim tourists, viewed from the back as they stand on a bridge looking at the Eiffel Tower. But even as their image remains frozen, pedestrians stroll behind them, ignoring them, as the Tower dances with light. It’s like a miniature Muslim version of “Invisible Man.”
And then there’s that ending. It is utterly about endings, but also about eternity. (It’s also about Iranian censorship laws, since it breaks three of them: a woman appears with her hair uncovered, a woman sings by herself, and a woman and a man kiss.) As a dark-haired girl lies asleep, looking almost dead with her head on the desk, we see a frozen image from an old Hollywood movie on her computer screen (so the cinema is gone), and that image depicts a couple staring into each other’s eyes, and they start, very slowly, to kiss (so censorship is gone), and their love is alive, and the movie they’re in is alive, and maybe the cinema, after all, is alive, and as for Abbas Kiarostami, I can only go back to that song by Andrew Lloyd Weber (with lyrics by Glenn Slater), which says, “Love never dies, love will continue,/Love keeps on beating, when you’re gone.”
The Playlist review: On July 4th, 2016, cinema lost one of its living legends in Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami. For its 70th edition, the Cannes Film Festival rolled out the red carpet for the director’s posthumous final work, the documentary “24 Frames.” One must give credit where credit is due to Cannes for offering up the iconic Grand Theatre Lumière for the premiere of a nonfiction and non-narrative work that is a world apart from the glamour associated with the tapis rouge. Of course, this particular cinema has previously hosted the world premiere of numerous Kiarostami films, most recently “Certified Copy” in 2010 and “Like Someone In Love” in 2012. Even if “24 Frames” has more in common with the director’s avant-garde “Shirin” than his Palme d’Or winner “Taste Of Cherry,” the film is a major work, and particularly indispensable to fans yearning to spend another two hours with a master who was taken too soon.
The outline for “24 Frames” is exceptionally straightforward: in an effort to investigate the ability of cinema to capture reality, Kiarostami chose a series of 23 photographs and one painting for which he imagined four-and-a-half minutes that might proceed or follow the still image. Each of these frames is distinctly demarcated with a numbered title, and a foreword at the outset of the film establishes Kiarostami’s intention with the project. The result is an effort that, within the right frame of mind, is surprisingly accessible.
Setting aside the painting borrowed for Frame 1 — Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s “The Hunters In The Snow,” making for a marvelous hook — the remaining frames cycle through a catalogue of recurring subjects and motifs: turbulent weather, animals of various species, windows and other interior frames, waves lapping onto beaches. Not necessarily offering up an overarching narrative, the repeated elements nonetheless bait the viewer into finding meaning in the collection of shots without ever offering a monolithic interpretation.
“24 Frames” wisely sets out its pace at beginning, meaning there’s no need to check your watch. Not only does the conceit remain involving throughout the two-hour duration, but the film houses a handful of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments. Speaking with another viewer after the screening, it was uncertain whether Frame 18 features a dog attacking a bird, or a wild cat — this particular shot is in black-and-white, and one’s interpretation hinges on catching the animal stalking in the extreme background early on. The shooting location for the frames, likely shot over the course of years, is left a mystery — even the importance of the “where” of any image remains up for debate.
As with his other greatest moments — think the inexplicable coda to Palme d’Or winner “Taste Of Cherry” — Kiarostami remains playful throughout the duration of “24 Frames.” With each new shot, the film renews itself and offers up a fresh, immaculate composition to explore. The director’s animated twist on “The Hunters In The Snow” offers up a template, with new motion elements being introduced to the original painting over the course of the shot’s duration: trails of smoke, falling snow, a dog moving from the background of the image to its foreground in order to mark his territory on a tree. From this point on, it’s purely photography, and each shot makes creative use of the quadrants and depth of the film frame.
Despite the fact that “24 Frames” finds the Iranian maestro operating in art-installation mode, the film has many of the key qualities that distinguishes Kiarostami’s more famous fiction efforts. The manner in which the recorded image isolates a unique moment in time — best illustrated by his “Koker Trilogy,” comprised of “Where Is the Friend’s Home?,” “Life, And Nothing More…” and “Through The Olive Trees,” which traces the transformation of the Koker region in Iran after a devastating earthquake — is the main subject of inquiry here, albeit on a microcosmic scale. “24 Frames” snaps still-life photography out of its stasis, giving its images a brief history and miniature stories, even if it’s just the movement of cows in and out of a shot. The context of the frames, albeit effectively limited to the temporal and physical boundaries of the shot, suggests a wider resonance as the sound of gunshots and depiction of barriers recur.
It seemed like the closing shot of “Like Someone In Love” was going to be Abbas Kiarostami’s final statement, and it was certainly an appropriate lasting impression. The culminating close-up of a shattered window in that Japan-set film is truly the filmmaker at his most enigmatic, leaving the fate of the film’s principal characters open to speculation. Picking up the motif of the window frame in a number of its canvases, “24 Frames” deserves to be received as more than just a footnote to Kiarostami’s body of work. 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. Surely Kiarostami’s spirit, if not necessarily his personage, hides in one (or more) of these 24 frames — perhaps in one of the numerous birds, flitting away before the next image flickers into view. [A-]