LFF 2017: 24 Frames Review
More on BFI London Film Festival 2017
Abbas Kiarostami's last film, 24 Frames, was pretty much completed before he passed away mid-2016, and it's a shame that the very final collection of images he committed to the screen prove to be so sorely underwhelming. Over the past four decades his name has become synonymous with transcendent cinema, able to transform the ordinary into an art form layered with humanity and meaning. Kiarostami remained resolutely experimental until the last and his posthumous effort is no different, opening with a brief written synopsis from the filmmaker himself.
The title has a literal meaning, displaying 24 different images that have inspired or affected the director in some way. Each frame is introduced by a brief title card - Frame 1 and so on - breathing life into photos originally taken by the director. At first he had intended to use famous paintings, fascinated by the idea of what might have occurred before and after the artist crystallised their vision. While the first frame contains Pieter Bruegel the Elder's The Hunters in the Snow, the remaining 23 frames are a selection of photos from Kiarostami's personal collection, most of which contain bleak, stripped down terrains battered by rain and snow, while birds, cows, dogs and wolves pass along the screen.
The first frame starts promisingly enough as smoke emits from the chimneys, birds darting across the sky as a dog wanders near to foreground interrogating the ground. Aural sounds from the scene also emerge to match the evolving movement and suddenly this classic painting is swimming in context as if by magic. Disappointingly, from that moment onwards, the film never returns to a similar level of wonder and what some may call hypnotic or entrancing, others would label as vacuous and draining. Despite their marked separation, the frames begin to blend together into a long blur of snow blizzards, shorelines, window frames and cawing crows, each one failing to invigorate the imagination.
Colour remains a distant concept for much of the film and when it does appear the eyes can only be grateful for the brief reprise. The idea was to provide further reference inside the images extending beyond the frame, yet Kiarostami appears to imagine that almost nothing of meaning occurred before, during, or after the snapshot. There are also issues with the rendering of the animation, which while in the most part appears seamless, there are some noticeably jarring and jerky movements of the animals that take you out of the moment and remind you of its artificiality.
You cannot help but admire a director who was so rigorously committed to working in the abstract, even in the final stage of his career. Running at almost two hours, justifying the length is a tough ask. Rather than interrogate the imagery, or search beyond their mounting device, it remains a flat exercise surprisingly lacking in guile and inspiration. The film brings to mind Nikolaus Geyrhalter's, Homo Sapiens, a documentary that spent 90 minutes focussed solely on static shots of decaying building interiors. There were three clear stages contained within each frame of Geyrhalter's film; the ghosts and memories of the past, the decaying present and the reclaiming of the spaces by nature. 24 Frames never finds that level of transformation, and Kiarostami is best remembered through the legacy of his earlier work, rather than this rigid farewell.