24 Frames

24 Frames ★★★★½

Paradoxes are built into the very technology of cinema, where time is measured in units of physical distance. The title of 24 Frames, Abbas Kiarostami’s final feature, is, of course, a reference to the broadly accepted standard framerate of filming, but it is also an invocation of “frame” as a more holistic notion of composition and intent. Each of the 24 images that the director expands is a compelling snapshot given new, hyperreal life with in-camera effects and animations that create motion in occasionally eerie, jittery ways that call attention to the artifice of cinema. From the outset, in which Kiarostami digitally animates Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s The Hunters in the Snow with smoky chimneys, fluttering birds and herded livestock, this is a radical break from the director’s usual form; soon, we are treated to wild sights like slurred, oneiric black-and-white images that recall the work of Aleksei German, or an image of a deeply silhouetted tree and bird that look less like backlit real objects than the cut-out shadow animations of Lotte Reiniger.

By the same token, Kiarostami’s approach fits well within his long-standing postmodern deconstruction of the barriers between reality and cinema, with emphasis on the ways that the closer cinema gets to looking like the real world, the easier it is to spot the shimmering moment where the mirage reveals itself. Kiarostami’s speciality, of a camera gazing out at the world from within the intimate but distancing second screen of a car window, crops up in Frame 2, albeit with the added subversion of the real of the window itself being a fake, crafted to create illusions of movement. Kiarostami produces some jaw-dropping images in this: a cow sleeping on a beach as tide rolls in, mist and salt air casting a haze over pallid skies; a deer munching on grass before a gunshot sends its sprawling into the one dark area of an otherwise bright frame; a silhouette of a bird on a window blind brightening and dimming with the sun moving in and out of clouds, giving the bird a ghostly quality. In one shot, an abandoned building coated in the high-contrast white of streaks of bird shit is filmed in such a way as to only leave a small quadrilateral of window space through which to see pigeons gathering on a street. At times, the strange digital textures and subtly weird pace of object movement recalls some similar in-camera digital trickery in Twin Peaks: The Return, finding a tonally different but thematically similar exploration of time in the possibilities afforded by new film technology. Gorgeous and elegiac, the film is the perfect send-off for one of cinema’s great innovators, one final analysis of time and metaphysics from a director who managed to deliver it after his own death.