A testament to truth twenty-four times a second
Words by Theodosia Dobriyanova / @TheaDobriyanova
“Photography is the mother of cinema.” —
“Cinema is truth 24 times a second.” —
The posthumous release of Abbas Kiarostami’s final work 24 Frames feels like warm consolation following the director’s untimely and unfair death last year. While walking to the screening, I felt comfort about seeing unreleased work by a deceased artist, a chance to wave goodbye, this time knowing that it’s a final goodbye. When I arrived to the screening, I found no sadness in the room, only warmth and fascination towards the unexpected beauty that began to unfold before our eyes.
24 Frames is an experimental film constructed by twenty-four different four minute-long computer-generated segments (‘frames’) exploring, in Kiarostami’s own words, what he imagines might have happened in the time before and after he took a photograph. And indeed, the beautiful winter landscapes, the animals, and that white fence by the sea that evokes the director’s meditative love letter to Ozu's Five (2003), all recall Kiarostami’s photography. In a way that David Lynch would, Kiarostami created 24 Frames as an experiment with, and testament to, his lifelong fascination with photography, imagining what his pictures would’ve looked like if they moved. Kiarostami has said:
It’s said that in the beginning was the word, but for me the beginning is always an image. When I think about a conversation, it always starts with images. And what I love about photography is the inscription of a single moment: it’s completely ephemeral. You take the photograph, and one second later, everything has changed.
In this regard, frame one is perhaps the exception, since it’s not a photograph but a representation of Peter Bruegel’s famous painting Hunters in The Snow (1565). It serves to prepare the spectator for the world he/she is about to enter. The cinema theatre is dark and warm and there is silence in the room. The famous Bruegel painting appears on the screen, inviting us into a meditative study of its elements. After some time, the crows on the ground begin to walk around and the painting comes to life. There is something unearthly in seeing a painting move, some feeling that a border has been crossed and two different worlds have just met before one’s eyes. This happened to me before I realised that there is a word for this magical phenomenon of seeing an image move, and that somebody has already called it cinema. And indeed, there is something about 24 Frames that carries the atavistic traits of Early cinema, those first steps Muybridge took by placing photographs, frame by frame, next to one another until the illusion of movement is created. Yet, it is apparent that the film could not have been done in another era. Supposedly a combination of photography and computer generation, there is an unmistaken virtuality about the moving figures in Kiarostami’s final experiment, that take the image beyond the realm of the real. This beyond-the-real quality of the image, along with the already dreamy mood and slow-pace of the film, place the spectator somewhere between the wakeful state and the dream. Similarly to the experience of "Slow Cinema", 24 Frames borrows the spectator some time and space to insert their own meditations and experiences. Mine brought me back to childhood, and I imagined this film is what it would look like if someone could capture a child’s imagination while paging through a photography book — in a child’s mind, similarly to the filmmaker’s, an image never stands still.
So 24 Frames reveals the a certain what-might-have-been-ness as imagined by Kiarostami. What happens to the cow sleeping on the beach after a moment of this act has been captured by the photographer? What happens between two lions in the savanna on a hot day just before a storm comes up? Two horses are seen playing around, as on a winter landscape painting. Suddenly, when a dark car window is taken down, the frame reveals itself to be a point-of-view shot. We are now the driver who has stopped to observe this beautiful scene. He stands there for a while, then re-starts the car, pulls the window up, and leaves. And it is often these moments, the observation of the before and after something has happened, the observations of things while nothing significant happens, that seem to intrigue Kiarostami more than anything else. After all, it is those moments that life is made of. Although Abbas Kiarostami worked on his project for three years, it’s hard to know how much of the postproduction of 24 Frames has been done without him. In a way, that seems unimportant, his themes are there, his signature is there, and they reach us, so the author reaches us as well.
The final, 24th frame of the late director’s experiment, is the first anthropocentric in the film. A young film editor has fallen asleep in front of her computer. On the desktop, we see her editing programme and her work in progress - an old romantic movie. Suddenly, the two lovers on the screen begin to move towards each other in a slowed-down pace, frame by frame, until their lips meet. This prolonged act seems like a condensation of the whole film so far. Then the old-fashioned THE END title substitutes the lovers on the screen. It is, indeed, the end, and there is no sadness, only overwhelming thought that if cinema is truth twenty-four times a second, then we should be more attentive to the seconds.
Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Duration: 116 minutes
Teodosia Dobriyanova is a writer, programmer and filmmaker based in London.