It's a personal shame of mine that I've taken so long to watch an Abbas Kiarostami film. Some of his movies are in my Fandor queue and I've read nothing but glowing recommendations from others. Blame the over-saturation of available media or blame my own procrastination and/or one-dimensional notions of what I should be excited to see - whatever the case, I was finally initiated into the Kiarostami-Verse by way of his final project, 24 Frames. In a strange way, the film, released after the death of the director, works as a sort of self-eulogy of sorts for both his career goals and visions of life. There's a strong sense of sadness that overwhelmed me most of the time, but never did I cry or wince. Always, I was transfixed an glued to the screen. Pure, without pity and with great purpose, the film lays bare complex thoughts and questions on cinema/art, existence/environment and the heavy indifference felt between.
24 Frames has been described as "experimental", and perhaps it is by virtue of peeling techniques and concepts from the past and pasting them on a modern canvas for the audience of today, but something about that word feels off in this context. Is it an experiment to revisit the origins of a medium? To discover where we've been, where we are and where we're going? Through the digital manipulation of twenty-four short, mostly wordless stories, expressed outwardly from before and after a frame or photograph, we get something more akin to a magic lantern show. The projectionist is Kiarostami, who brings about the light and shadows with the fore-knowledge of a master showman, exercising images in delicate and graceful motion. Experimental? Maybe. What does that make us?
The stories (frames) shown are set in and around moments of natural beauty and grand serenity. Birds and Deer are common characters, flying and grazing about at complete peace. From here, drama sets in. We see in one story a Cow laying by the beach, possibly dying, as other cattle move along without concern. The waves crash, the current pulls on the water and animals go about their business as a being is struggling to maintain its hold in this world. While this bit ends with a twist, the real shock was how enthralling and entertaining it was to stay on one shot, basking in the illusion of motion, while all we have to hold our attention is the environment and the direction of an unseen force bringing this about. It's startling to realize what a crazy wonderful facade cinema is and has become when all it takes to grasp our hearts and minds is what is happening outside a window.
Breathtaking and transfixing, I am left feeling something bittersweet. There is a sadness to 24 Frames, but never a tragedy. We see the chaos of philosophies on art and life colliding, but never does it get confusing. It's a struggle for sure, and we are probably in the middle of the rope tug, but there's enough slack for an answer to come for all. I for one felt a loss of some naivete, something that is learned over time and can, thankfully, be unlearned. Ironically, for us to progress in our understanding of film, a regression to a former state of thought might be necessary. A state where anything and everything can be a story and even non-stories carry the weight of one's world.
Bravado and massive imagination make 24 Frames the magic trick and truth bomb that it is. I don't want to speculate on lofty and silly curiosities like Kiarostami knowing he was close to the end and plotting something stunning to go out on so to speak, but the film leaves us to ponder about the auteur's intentions, no matter how irrelevant they may be. It's only natural to consider all possibilities, but in doing so, you might be missing the forest for the trees. And that would be quite the shame.
RATING: 5 / 5
24 Frames screens at Zeitgeist in New Orleans from April 20 - 25.