24 Frames

24 Frames ★★★★½


Still life and motionless death wrapped in an endless cycle of harmony and disharmony.


24 Frames begins with a still of Pieter Bruegel's painting The Hunters in the Snow, so you already know it's going to be god-tier. Then, the picture suddenly comes to life: billowing smoke is seen reaching towards the sky from two chimneys, and the snow starts to gently climb down from the clouds. A dog is heard barking and soon appears onscreen. Cows are seen crossing the snow-cushioned pathway between the two lakes at a leisurely pace. All is peaceful. Flow-like. Then, gradually, the white smoke from the chimneys dissolves in the windless sky, and the snow ceases to fall. The dog leaves the scene on the left. The cows have already crossed the path and disappear to the right. The picture is still again. It is no more than a motionless painting – but for a few minutes, it became reality.

Abbas Kiarostami's concept is simple but ingenious: he selected famous paintings and photographs he himself took, and imagined the scenes unfolding minutes before and after the photos were taken. The result is 24 frames of poetry in motion, the laying bare of nature to its absolute essentials – the purest form of non-narrative cinema created in the 21st century.

The scenes all play out in nature. There are no humans present, only animals folded in the sacred frame of snow and rain, waves lapping on the ocean shore, the wind howling, and storms brewing above the shelter of the woods. The camera stays still for each frame; its placement is precise, the shots more symmetrical than Renaissance paintings.

The spectator behind the first-person POV shots merges with the audience and remains passive; we are allowed to observe nature in its unspoiled state, and we wouldn't dare disturb it even if given the chance to be an active participant. Several frames are not viewed directly but through a window from inside a house. We are aware that we are watching a movie, a meta-reality instead of a reality, but at the same time, we are comforted by such purity being at arm's length – close but never quite granting physical affinity, never allowing us to become one with it.

Diegetic sounds of nature ruffle the silence but the images are serene, peaceful. Although 24 Frames is a non-narrative film, conflict is present. Man-made noises invade the stillness and disturb nature's harmony: a flock of birds takes off after a sudden gunshot – one tumbles onto the shore, dead, to be carried away into eternity by the ocean. A speedboat crashes the tranquil waves against the shore as it rages across the shimmering water. More gunshots are heard in the woods and escape from the clutches of the trees as the far-off whimpers of the wounded animal permeate the air.

Still life and motionless death are wrapped in one endless cycle of harmony and disharmony – and the frames have never looked this good.

#Added to Abbas Kiarostami

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