Abbas Kiarostami died last year, but his legacy will never be forgotten. The man who blew apart the barrier between documentary and fiction left one last film behind: a collection of 24 short sequences devised around individual photographs, which each act as miniature poetic dramas. They play like a series of memories – some banal, some breathtaking in their elegance – and, while there’s not much in the way of cumulative effect, it feels like a fitting send-off for the man who consistently defied our expectations.
Starting with a digital reanimation of Pieter Bruegel’s Hunters in the Snow, 24 Frames plays off unexpected movement, cause and effect, and our empathy with creations we know to be fake. Part of the engagement of these early Frames lies in trying to work out what is real and what has been composited. In Frame Three, cows are shown walking across a beach, and it asks to be treated like a puzzle: are these cows real? Is the one lying down dead? Is the foreground part of the beach, or has it been superimposed on? The Frames largely follow animals – particularly crows – as they try to survive in wind, rain and snow. Man is seldom seen directly, but his presence is constantly felt, be it in chain-link fences or gunshots that startle a herd of deer.
24 Frames is a challenging film, a self-consciously experimental exercise that repeats itself in occasionally tedious ways. But each sequence has an aesthetic balance, a beginning, middle and end, that often finds time for emotion, even humour. Take this scene: a dog yaps at a bag flapping in the wind at the beach. A seagull emerges from behind it and flies off. The dog follows the seagull off frame…then comes back, and resumes yapping at the post, until it suddenly falls over. That’s funny! Or at least, it is in the company of the other Frames, the worst of which resemble computer screensavers.
But Kiarostami can’t resist ending things with a bang, and he saves the best until last. Making incredible use of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies, the late director eulogises his art within a single inspiring, deeply moving image that’s best left unspoiled – except that it will send you out of the movie theatre with a rejuvenated faith in cinema, and mourning the loss of one of its giants.
24 Frames does not have a UK release date yet.
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