Criterion Prediction #156: 24 Frames, by Alexander Miller
Title: 24 Frames
Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Synopsis: In the last few years of his life, prolific director Kiarostami constructed a series of short films designed around photographs, paintings, and still images. Kiarostami brings these images to life, incorporating animation, music, ambient sound, giving each frame a distinctive tone and style while committing to a consistent tonal narrative.
Critique: 24 Frames opens with some insights by the director about the power of an image, the nature of art, and the lengths to which artists will go to capture the “reality” of a scene.
This is a fitting preamble that would signal not only the driving aesthetic thesis of 24 Frames but also inadvertently warn us of the film’s flawed inclinations.
For all the beautiful and hypnotically impressive images offered throughout the entirety of the feature, 24 Frames also warbles as a result of its technical intervention. The film opens with the recognizable Bruegel painting Hunters in the Snow, while it’s a striking image to start with it is not long before we realize there are plumes of smoke rising from chimneys, little critters are scurrying about in the background, a flurry of snow can be seen canvassing the scene. While this is initially a curious flourish, it’s not long (each “frame” has a runtime of four minutes) before a dog is puttering around, not an animated one, but a superimposed live-action dog, who stops to pee on a tree (in the painting mind you) and dashes off the frame. Looking at Bruegel’s painting for four minutes would have been fine, the supplementary smoke and snow was interesting, but the fucking dog? In a renaissance painting the presence of a digitally cropped pooch palling around sticks out more than a sore thumb, it’s rightfully stupid, luckily the subsequent frames (the feature is presented in sequence, each sequence is numbered “Frame 1, 2, 3, etc.”) improve from there on out.
It seems that Kiarostami was fascinated with animals, landscapes, and the ambiance of weather. Some sections are in color, others in black and white. At its best, 24 Frames excels when the vista is removed from any recognizable reality, paired with limited to minimal movement. Standout sequences involve animated snowscapes and uniquely juxtaposed background/ foregrounds. Kiarostami frequently returns to the atmospheric pull of snow and, for the most part, the film works to superlative effect. But at certain junctures, namely the first, the film can come off as a clunky experiment. However, for its flaws 24 Frames has more artistic strength than it does weaknesses, and with Kiarostami’s penchant for his methodical direction, it’s no wonder that a project such as this became such a draw in his later years, in a perfect world it would have been nice to see it fully realized prior to his unfortunate death.
Why It Belongs in the Collection: In some ways, it seems like 24 Frames is already part of The Criterion Collection. Perhaps it’s the instant recognition that follows when you start a movie and its opening credits contain the Janus Films logo or the fact that the film is a posthumous product of a renowned director whose work is prominently featured in The Criterion Collection. While there are rumors abound that Kiarostami’s earlier films such as The Koker Trilogy are awaiting a Criterion release, Janus Films is touring the well-received 24 Frames. It would seem like a natural inclusion to The Criterion Collection, if the movie doesn’t fall into Criterion’s lap, it’s a contender for a Cohen Media release. However, the latter seems less likely.