At the base of a large hill, there is a clearing. Snow falls covering both hill and clearing in white. At the base of the hill are two rows of trees, forming a path. A flock of birds sits on the side of the hill. A shot rings out. The flock flees. Moments later, deer run through the path from left to right, into and out of the frame. One deer stops and looks back. It calls out. More deer run by it, three or four at a time. The deer slowly inches to the left, back toward danger. Individual birds fly by. More deer flee, three or four at a time. The rebel inches closer to the left side of the frame, closer and closer to danger. Another shot rings out. The deer doesn’t flinch. More deer sprint past, three or four at a time. The deer calls out again. A single deer emerges from the left side of the frame, meeting his companion at the nearest point to danger. The pair walk the path slowly, side-by-side, inching ever closer to the right side of the frame. Ever closer to safety and sanctuary which is perceived to be just off screen. Closer they inch, slowly, as we wonder whether danger will rear its head again. The companions disappear off the edge of the screen, and though they have merely dropped out of this small frame, we know somehow that they are safe.
Abbas Kiarostami was never known to be a conventional artist. It is fitting then that his final film, 24 Frames, is such a spectacular experiment. It is a fusion of two of Kiarostami’s great loves: film and photography. The notion behind the film is that Kiarostami selected 24 still images and stretched them into roughly four and a half minutes of movement. The first image that he animates is a painting, but everything after that is based on his photography, almost exclusively photos of nature.
In a certain sense, in the fusion of these 24 segments, Kiarostami injected a third artistic passion: poetry. Though there is no sense of story throughout the film, there are powerful themes and motifs. Animals are almost exclusively the focus of movement throughout. As in the example above, Kiarostami spends much of the film exploring the importance of companionship. Even in nature, Kiarostami’s creatures crave love and friendship. They also find controversy and violence.
Kiarostami signals his interest in animals in the first segment. The painting he focuses on features humans, birds, and dogs. The birds animate and fly around the frame. One of the dogs begins to wander around. However, the humans remain entirely still throughout, showing the audience that the focus of the film will instead be on the movements of animals in nature. There is only one segment in 24 Frames that focuses on humans, though a handful feature humans prominently. Toward the end of the film, a segment features a group of six people staring at the Eiffel Tower from a bridge. As the six figures stand in complete, motionless silence, other people quickly walk by. Kiarostami only engages with the moving people when a guitar player walks past the group, and he focuses for a few moments on her song and dance.
The mood throughout the film is almost dream-like. It’s often unclear how the scenes were constructed, be it with actual footage or computer effects. The perfection of Kiarostami’s vision exists outside of reality. When nature acts on the film’s images, it does so with a rhythm that illustrates the director’s profound respect for the Earth.
It is fitting that Kiarostami’s final film is such a reverent and meditative reflection on nature. In its posthumous release, 24 Frames overturns all narrative expectations and expresses the wonder of cinema in a language distinct to Kiarostami himself. Perhaps some viewers will struggle to find the film to be as traditionally compelling as his more narrative films are, but 24 Frames should easily be appreciated as one last gift to us from one of the great, unmatched icons of world cinema.