Dir: Abbas Kiarostami | Panorama | Documentaries | Iran/France | 2017 |120 mins
Sunday, Oct. 8, 3:30 p.m. | Vancity Theatre
Our everyday reality is never static; it is characterized by constant movement and change. Even in the stillness of the most peaceful moments, the light shifts, the leaves dance on the breeze, birds chatter and call out to one another. A photograph, however, captures only a moment, a tiny segment in a long, unbroken series of events, and, in that way, the resulting image is unable to capture something fundamental about reality. In his final film, 24 Frames, Iranian director Abbas Kairostami explores the contrast between the shifting nature of reality and the medium of the photograph.
The films consists of 24 images, each of which inhabits a fixed frame and comes alive for four and a half minutes through the use of digital technology.
Initially, Kairostami was thinking about paintings. He wondered about the extent to which an artist can depict reality in a single image and conceived of a film in which the events that may have transpired directly before and after the image are imagined. Ultimately, he moved away from paintings, opting instead to use photographs, most of which were taken by him.
One painting remains to tell the tale of the evolution of the film, however, and that is Pieter Bruegel’s “The Hunters in the Snow,” from 1565. This is the first image to appear on the screen. At first, it is utterly still and silent, but soon smoke begins to rise from the chimneys, the wind picks up, a dog walks across the foreground of the image. The sounds intensify as crows “caw” from the treetops, cattle walk across the scene and the wind begins to howl.
With this painting, as with the mostly black-and-white nature photographs to follow, the knowledge that these were originally still, silent images seems to make the sounds that much more prominent. There is an awareness that the sounds, which typically increase in intensity over the course of the four and a half minutes, are a part of the reality of the scene that a photograph cannot convey.
The movement in each frame is similarly emphasized. We see the amount of change that occurs over a short span of time. Storms build, the sun moves, and the shadows shift, animals come and go. In one frame, a songbird is perched on a pile of cut logs and is framed by two trees ablaze in autumn colour. We hear the sound of a chainsaw in the distance as the bird sings in the foreground. The chainsaw gets closer, and, eventually, we see the tree on the left fall. The sound of the chainsaw moves again, and the tree on the right soon falls. As that one topples, the songbird flits out of the frame. In the course of four and a half minutes, nearly everything that made that photograph what is was has disappeared from the scene; the songbird and the frame of the two trees.
Kairostami died on July 4, 2016, and, in many ways, the film seems to be a meditation on the end. The photographs selected are predominantly of winter landscapes that emphasize the end of a natural cycle and ocean scenes that convey a sense of infinity. The parting image, which continues to linger with me, shows a person asleep at a desk, their laptop open against a backdrop of windows with the bare branches of the trees beyond moving in the building wind. A scene depicting two lovers in an old black-and-white film unfolds in slow motion on the laptop screen while “Love Never Dies,” by Andrew Lloyd Webber plays. The song has a haunting quality in the context of the scene, which slowly darkens, fading into night as the film playing on the laptop slowly comes to a close, the image of the lovers replaced by the words “the end.”
Just as a still frame cannot possibly capture the complexity of the continual unfolding of reality, so too is this film incapable of conveying the full complexity of Kairostami’s life and work. And yet, it seems to have captured something fundamental about it, something intangible, something that will live on long past Kairostami himself.