Magazine article Artforum International

Final Cut: James Quandt on Abbas Kiarostami's 24 Frames

Magazine article Artforum International

Final Cut: James Quandt on Abbas Kiarostami's 24 Frames

Article excerpt

THE TITLE of Abbas Kiarostami's posthumous film, 24 Frames (2016), both announces the nature of the work--consisting of two dozen shots, all but one statically filmed with a fixed camera--and deviously invokes Jean-Luc Godard's famous pronouncement, "Cinema is truth at twenty-four frames a second." Godard's formulation, like so much imagery that will soon prove obsolete in relation to movies, referred to celluloid; Kiarostami in fact abandoned that medium long ago for digital filmmaking, in which separate frames do not actually exist. Never mind that the increasingly postmodernist Kiarostami seemed to assert in his final feature, with its many manipulations of the image, that any faith in filmic "truth" may be misplaced.

The film's formalist structure looks back to Kiarostami's tribute to Yasujiro Ozu, Five (2003), a quintet of locked long takes filmed on the Caspian Sea; 24 Frames plays off its rigid sequencing--each shot is numbered, lasts approximately four-and-a-half minutes, and ends with a fade to black, usually triggered by an animal's exit from the frame--against the (supposed) spontaneity of its events, most of them involving beasts whose behavior is augmented by crude CGI. A thunderclap frightens off a lion servicing his sexually aroused queen, who rolls onto her back, contemptuous of his interrupt-us-by-lightning; a seagull mourns its mate; two horses perform an amorous dance in the midst of a snowstorm; a conga line of ducks cavort on a shore. It's like an episode of Planet Earth shot by James Benning.

The opening frame reveals Kiarostami's original intention: to examine canonical artworks. As he suggests in the film's prologue: "For '24 Frames' I started with famous paintings but then switched to photos I had taken through the years." The camera initially surveys Bruegel's Hunters in the Snow, 1565, a painting that has inspired several directors, especially Andrei Tarkovsky, whose penchant for bare-branched trees Kiarostami indulges here. In the first of many instances of digital trickery, Kiarostami animates the tableau: Chimneys chuff; a dog pees on a tree; crows take flight. One of the few frames in which humans appear, the Bruegel serves as an imagistic repository for the remainder of the film, its snowy setting, hunting theme, and bestiary (especially black birds) repeatedly employed in the subsequent minidramas. (Again like Tarkovsky, the Iranian auteur inclined to the inclement; almost half the frames involve snow, while several others feature rain, wind, and impending storms. …

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