exit icon
exit icon

24 frames, Connecting the history of Cinema to the future of cinema.

24 frames, Connecting the history of Cinema to the future of cinema.

Peyman Naeemi

Jean-Luc Godard famously said, “Film begins with DW Griffith and ends with Abbas Kiarostami”.  Abbas Kiarostami (1940-2016), one of the most prestigious Iranian filmmakers after the 1979 revolution, humbly corrected Godard`s note in one of his interviews, saying, “Godard said he only likes one of my films –Wind will carry us (1999).” The statement displays the lasting impact of the Iranian filmmaker on the world of cinema and its progression of digital film production. As an artist, photographer, and filmmaker, Kiarostami masterfully continued experimenting with medium, style, and storytelling throughout his long and fruitful career. 

The current research aims to elucidate the aesthetics of 24 frames (2017), Kiarostami`s final feature, which can be assumed to be his legacy for future generation. 24 frames, is an experimental film and Kiarostami worked on creating this film during the final three years of his life. (The film was completed under the supervision of one of his sons and released in 2017). 

The film is about animating 24 still images –among them are famous paintings and Kiarostami’s own photographs- and turning them into short, visual and thematic sequences. At the beginning of the film there is a revealing text written by Kiarostami that indicates his purpose of making this experimental work of art. He notes, “I always wonder to what extent the artist aims to depict the reality of a scene, painters capture only one frame of reality and nothing before or after it. For 24 frames, I started with famous paintings but then switched to the photos I had taken through the years. I included about four and half minutes of what I have imagined might have taken place before or after each image that I have captured”. 

After releasing in 2017, the film has been celebrated and massively praised among the critics who placed it as a conspicuous work of art and a pioneer of its kind. David Bordwell (2018) writes “With 24 Frames we get that monumental impulse recast by photorealistic animation: landscapes teased into little stories by the miracle of rendering, mo-cap, and drag-and-drop.” 

This paper will argue that 24 frames is a pioneering film in the ways that it connects the history of cinema with the future of cinema. It does this in two ways. First, it is an intersection between realism and formalism and secondly, it aims to broaden the horizons of digital cinema by relating its aesthetics to its inherent potentialities.

Part 1: An intersection between classical theories of cinema

In this part, I will explore the connections 24 frames makes between two basic tendencies in the theories of classical cinema, realism and formalism. Firstly, I will examine the elements of realism in the film, using the theories of Siegfried Kracauer, André Bazin, and Roland Barthes. Secondly, I will talk about Kiarostami`s formalistic style of filmmaking, a style in which the content’s emphasis is usually placed on symbolism and composition. Finally, I will investigate the connections that 24 frames  makes between the two tendencies of classical film theory. This is to say, the first part if the paper is mainly looking at past theories.

1. realism

When watching Kiarostami’s films and considering the great deal of scholarly literature about his films, one is directed towards one unifying theme: the use of realism. Kiarostami has been described as the master of connecting fact and fiction, obscuring the border between documentary and fictional storytelling. Maryam Ghorbankarimi[2] states, “Realism in film can be explained as a style of filmmaking that attempts to duplicate the objective reality by using authentic locations, long shots, and lengthy takes. Some of the most significant elements of realism in cinema evident in Kiarostami’s films are the use of natural lighting, location shooting, employing non-professional actors, and minimal editing, which are all employed in an attempt to convey the illusion that the constructed film world is a mirror image of the real world.”

According to Hayward (2006), There are two types of realism in film: seamless realism and aesthetic realism.[3] Seamless realism is an attempt to use narrative structures and film techniques to create a “reality effect” to maintain authenticity. Aesthetic realism, which was first termed by French filmmakers in the 1930s and promoted by Andre Bazin in the 1950s, acknowledges that a “film cannot be fixed to mean what it shows”, as there are multiple realisms. As such, these filmmakers use location shooting, natural light and non-professional actors to ensure the viewer can make up her/his own choice based on the film, rather than being manipulated into a preferred reading.”[4] 

Kiarostami`s films should be classified according to aesthetic realism, since they are either non-narrative or employ a minimalist narrative structure and lyrical tone that confirm Kiarostami’s fascination with the nature of reality. Khatereh Sheibani[5] argues that, Kiarostami achieves a poetic realism in his films “by employing minimal plots and non-narrative stories, based on lyrical moments set in natural areas.”  In most of his films Kiarostami worked with children and non-actors, which also led him to achieve a peculiar style in filmmaking in which the characters do not play. Rather, they live in front of the camera as if there is no shooting.

Investigating the elements of realist cinema in 24 frames, one discovers that the film has the essence of realism within the process of its production, since the director`s raw material is a number of his photographs that display the real world and nature. Also, in the process of animating those photographs, Kiarostami does his best to stay loyal to reality by preventing himself from adding narration or any other out-of-the-scene notions to the frames that may intervene the flow of life in the film. In this respect, 24 Frames is thoroughly aligned with what Kracauer expresses about the aesthetics of cinema and photography. Kracauer states cinema should be thoroughly examined through its ability to represent reality. Then he adds, [6] “film is not art, it’s seizing on flow of life.” Also, another prominent realist, Andre Bazin, indicates that[7] “cinema is objectivity in time”, and its role is “preservation of life by a representation of life”. To Bazin, the cinema is inherently realistic because of the mechanical mediation of the camera. This is not the same as saying that cinema is “objective” in any sense other than relative, and that cinema is untouched by ideological and cultural factors.

2. Watching practice (new look)

In 24 frames, Kiarostami redefines realism theories by putting all of them under the notion of a different practice of “watching”. He is inviting the audience to a substantially different “watching practice”[8]. In fact, it is a process of achieving a “new look” to the nature, by using cinematic frames. Like Susan Sontag who believes[9] “The omnipresence of cameras persuasively suggests that time consists of interesting events, events worth photographing”, Kiarostami in 24 frames invites his audience to pause for one moment and have and an in-depth look at the routine events happening around them.

By doing so, while watching 24 frames, the spectator becomes an examiner. In other words, all of the details haven`t been already prepared for the audience. Consequently, contrary to mainstream narrative cinema, here the audience takes part in the examination process and can find new things within the frames every single time they look at them. This is the difference between an active audience and a “lazy-minded” audience who Kiarostami believes Hollywood and current narrative cinema have made[10]. Returning to 24 frames, one can realize that every sequence of film should be looked at through a different “watching practice”. For example, sometimes the audience watches a mini-narrative sequence, sometimes they are seeing the aesthetics of plastic arts before their eyes, and even further, sometimes they are confronted with an environmental message (the penultimate frame).

André Bazin stated that realist cinema was a more democratic form of film as it did not manipulate the spectator and allowed them to enjoy “the freedom to scan the multi-planar field of image for its meaning.”[11] Similarly, Kiarostami asserts that spectators should not be captives of the filmmaker but rather be active participants. He famously achieved this stylistically in 24 frames by displaying long take sequences with no dialogue and narration to give the viewer space and time to fill in the gaps and add notions to the film through his or her own experience.

3. interactive relation between the author and the spectator

Kiarostami describes this “watching practice” as an interactive process between the author and the audience. That is to say, he is inviting his audience to watch and, simultaneously, examine their experiences, feelings, and perceptions of watching. To clarify how this process works, he uses a beautiful Persian poem from Rumi[12] to indicate that the filmmaker is like a Polo player who shoots the ball (the spectator). When the ball moves, the player follows it until it reaches where the player (director) aimed. Kiarostami says the director does not specify the path; the spectator chooses how to get there with the director guiding him along the way, simultaneously, examining the spectator during his journey.[13] Revealingly, Kiarostami`s first movie (Bread and Alley) is about a boy shooting a ball and chasing it through an alley. In the introduction of “Lessons With Kiarostami”, Mike Leigh describes Kiarostami: “While Abbas leads us through the watching process, eventually, he leaves us alone to build the reality on our own.[14] Last but not least, Kiarostami`s other film –Shirin– best describes his desire to examine the spectator of an event. Shirin features close-ups of many notable Iranian actresses and French actress Juliette Binoche as they watch a film based on the part-mythological Persian romance tale of “Khosrow and Shirin”, with themes of female self-sacrifice.

Kiarostami`s aim is to train us as an active and concentrated spectator of reality, training that he believes is only possible through the lens of camera (photography and cinema). “I’ve often noticed that we are not able to look at what we have in front of us unless it’s inside a frame” he says, “a method of creation through omission, not through addition.”[15] 24 Frames provides an opportunity to ponder what duration adds -or subtracts- from a still picture. In “A walk with Kiarostami“, he says “There is a power to focus on specific frames in cinema, frames that we ignore to explore when we are in the real place. Because our eyes wander and do not focus on watching.” So, the idea of framing the object is an important notion to consider when watching Kiarostami`s photographs and films.

4. The influence of Ozu

In terms of the realism in 24 frames, one can find out that Kiarostami`s film is closer to Yasujirō Ozu`s realism rather than other realist filmmakers. There is a close relationship between Buddhism Zen notions –that are conspicuous in Ozu`s films- and the sequences of 24 frames, that connects Kiarostami`s work of art to that of painting rather than that of photography. In other words, since he is depicting the abstract form of nature without any intervention, the sequences of 24 frames are comparable to Sumi e paintings.

To clarify, I am going to mention some clues to the meaning of Zen. The essence of Zen Buddhism is achieving enlightenment by seeing one’s original mind (or original nature) directly; without the intervention of the intellect. Zen relies on intuitive understanding, on just ‘getting it’, and less so on philosophizing. Zen is concerned with what actually is rather than what we think or feel about what is. Zen is concerned with things as they are, without trying to interpret them. So, the essence of Zen can be perceived as “watching” the world as it exists without intervention. Thus, “watching” means realizing the importance of distancing.

Kiarostami admires Ozu`s films and also dedicated his Five to him. Five is a film with a close affinity to 24 frames. Both of films include a number of long-take shots displaying natural sceneries (mostly forest or sea) in real time. In this regard, the affinity between Ozu and Kiarostami is that both of them are standing at the same position looking to the nature from the same point of view. They are inviting the audience to pause and experience an in-depth look at what naturally has been presented before the eyes without any intention or intervention. For example, the first sequence of 24 frames best displays the look of Kiarostami. The film opens rather audaciously by animating Pieter Brueghel’s iconic painting “The Hunters in the Snow.” The effect is gradual, subtle and restrained: first smoke rising from chimneys, then crows taking wing, snowflakes falling, finally a dog trotting around and some cows passing, all accompanied by appropriate sound effects. The painting’s central figures do not move: there is no attempt to inject a narrative, only to bring life and movement, and normal change over a span of time. The same way as kiarostami, Ozu did not conform to Hollywood conventions. For example, rather than using the typical over-the-shoulder shots in his dialogue scenes, the camera gazes on the actors directly, which has the effect of placing the viewer in the middle of the scene.[16]  By doing so, both Kiarostami and Ozu leave the audience alone after showing them an abstract image of reality, letting them meditate and – if they want- produce meaning. The next few paragraphs are my own mediation and interpretation.

Focusing on animals most of the time, Kiarostami seeks a delicate display of humanistic relationships: for example, a shot felling a deer or a seagull, a cat catching a bird, a black flag falling over on a beach. This recurring appearance of death or collapse culminates in the penultimate frame, in which two bare trees stand behind a stack of firewood; the sound of a chainsaw grows louder, until the two trees, one by one, shiver and topple and simultaneously the bird vanishes. All the mentioned shots indicate a desire for survival which is one of the fundamental aspects of relations between humans. Moreover, the sequences that show the relations between birds or horses, indicate some other human behaviors which can be clearly seen in our routine life, among them are feelings of anger, patience, love, etc. Also, sound plays the same role and depicts nature as it can be heard in real situations. Sound sometimes conveys what is happening that we can’t see, as with the chainsaw, or with a frame that begins with soft shadows against a window-blind, accompanied by sounds of someone unlocking a door and entering a room, followed by the blind lifting. Music either supports or counterpoints the mood of the images, for example Puccini’s painfully beautiful aria “Un Bel Di Vedremo;” film composer Joseph Kosma’s chanson “Les Feuilles Mortes” (“Autumn Leaves”) sung by a busker in one of the few urban scenes with people; tango music underscoring the pas de deux (or is it a fight?) between two horses.

8 Formalism:

Contrary to realism, formalism in film can be described as the stylistic method of making a film in which aesthetic forms have more priority over the subject, as the content’s emphasis is usually placed on symbolism and composition.” Formalist works are often lyrical. Stam (2000) notes “formalists stressed a ‘poetic’ use of film analogous to the ‘literary’ use of language they posited for verbal texts. Just as plot is subordinate to rhythm in poetry, plot is subordinate to style in cinema.”[17] It is mentioned in the previous paragraphs that in order to prevent the passive relationship between the audience and the film, Kiarostami argues for the need for the audience’s creative involvement in the development of the plot and asserts, “a story requires gaps, empty spaces like in a crossword puzzle, voids that it is up to the audience to fill in.”[18] Consequently, it is perceivable that the gaps, empty spaces, and silences that he uses in his structure, and which are commonly attributed to realism, conform to a formalist approach to filmmaking. Unlike what might be perceived as the most notable element of formalist cinema, a heavy reliance on editing, Kiarostami’s films mostly use long takes and the editing between the shots is very subtle. All of these cuts are meticulously rendered and juxtaposed with exact and thoroughly calculated gaps. In this regard, Luca Bigazzi (2012) the cinematographer of Certified Copy says, “When you see the movies of Abbas Kiarostami, it seems they have been made easily and with a simple structure, but on the back of this there is a terrible amount of works and precision and geometrical construction about lighting and framing, so you cannot imagine what a complexity is behind.” So, these planned “crossword-like” scenes keep his films alive (like what he does with his photographs) and lead the audience’s understanding towards a multitude of feasible interpretations.

Kirstin Thompson (2010) offers a neo-formalist film analysis which can be used to understand Kiarostami’s formalist style. According to her, realism is better understood as realistic “motivation” than as style alone. It can either appeal to “our knowledge of everyday life gained by direct interaction with nature and society” or “our awareness of prevailing authentic canons of realism in a given period.”[19] Realism can be “radical and defamiliarizing if the main artistic styles of the time are highly abstract and have become automatized.”[20] Thus, it can be argued that the notion of realism at one specific time is not necessarily perceived as realism at a another time. Accordingly, realist cinema can appear in other styles over time. Thompson continues “After employing defamiliarization techniques for some time, what was considered as realistic will become “automatized” through repetition and less realistic qualities will take their place.”[21] Consequently, we witness the emergence of a new sort of realism in different periods through defamiliarization and the use of different tools. For example, Italian neo-realism emerged after the Second World War because post-war trauma demanded a novel cinematic language.

Regarding Thompson`s statements, neo-formalism postulates the viewers as active participants.[22] David Bordwell (2007) also argues it is the “film form” that guides the audience’s activity and therefore its response or reaction to the film.[23] Through the process of choosing which shots to include and which to leave out, the director prepares new notions before the audience`s eyes. This is what I initially noted as “watching practice”. Kiarostami suggests his audience use fresh watching practices. One of his unique tools to do so is repeating some of the long takes, such as long takes of the sea and forest that he uses many times in 24 frames. This formalistic style makes the audience to shake their accustomed habit of watching a movie and further contemplate these long takes as if they are examining a work of photography. Regarding Susan Sontag, who notes “essentially the camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own”,[24] these non-narrative takes are similar to photography. Kiarostami believes that, in photography we are freer than in cinema, because we are free from the challenge of creating story.  

9 Connection between realism and formalism

At first glance, the principles of realism and formalism may seem contrary to one another and even mutually exclusive. In spite of these differences, however, they still share some common ground, which has paved the way for Kiarostami to retain his control and artistic vision while presenting the audience with a realist film, and venture in and out of both styles or employ both styles at the same time. Walking on the border between realism and formalism, Kiarostami achieved a transcended cinema unique to him, which earned him the title of “author”. Also, almost all of his films -including 24 frames– cannot be easily or exclusively categorized within one genre.[25] 

24 frames can be considered as an ideal example of how Kiarostami employs the aesthetics of both formalism and realism. The film creates a visual illusion (animating photograpghs) and Positions it as a real event. So, the concept of contingency in photography which Barthes considers as related to a real event (Kiarostami`s photographs) combines with a set of “digitally constructed” frames. Since Kiarostami intentionally hasn`t highlighted whether the animated shots are showing either before or after his photographs, the spectator does not know, and can`t realize, which frame is the representation of contingency (photography), and which frames are digital reproductions (short sequences). That is to say, reality becomes inseparable from digital reproductions. Nevertheless, each of these 4 minute “animated photographs’ fool our eyes and make us believe them as accurate representations of reality. So, the film positions itself between “a representation of a real world” and “frames that are fabricated in an animation program”. 

The Oscillation between realism and formalism in 24 frames derives from Kiarostami`s concern of the director`s manipulation of reality in film. In Abbas Kiarostami, Vérités et songes (1994) Kiarostami points out that filmmakers set together a body of lies and put them in an order that is believable for the audience. To reach to that goal, Kiarostami believes that different cinematic elements should be aligned with the principal theme of a film. For example, directing, shooting, sound, lighting, and other cinematic techniques are doing their task well only when they do not catch the audience’s attraction. He notes[26] “the idea that the director should be the God of the scene is not always true. Once a director starts to get rid of this responsibility and gives authenticity to the reality that is happening in front of the camera, a set of unpredicted but necessary events will take place that broaden director`s choices in editing. These events also give new meanings to the scene.” Kiarostami experienced this in Close up (1990) more than in any other films that he directed. He says, “Close up is not my film, and I do not say it out of courtesy and humility. In many times I experienced that the actors do not listen to me and do whatever they want and I was just wondering how should I put this amalgam of shots together”. Then he says “this was a great lesson for me in a way that I understood director`s authority does not always work.”

Although in 24 frames all the frames are constructed and Kiarostami had complete control over them, it is perceivable from his previous experiences he didn`t intend to design everything. Consequently, the spectator experiences a sense of freedom during watching the film which shows that the director didn`t want to add meaning or narration to the “reality” of the flow of life in sequences. That is to say, although he had everything under his control, Kiarostami deliberately let the events happen in a way they were meant to happen naturally.

Part 2: Paving the way to the medium of future

In the second part, I am going to identify the features that made 24 frames a pioneering work of art, exclusively for digital images. So, I will elucidate the explorations of Kiarostami`s experimental work of art for the digital era. Digital filmmaking provides a platform for the filmmaker to break away from conventional filmmaking and storytelling. As Kiarostami admits, there is a certain expectation in telling stories with 35 mm film, while with digital film the viewer is more open to accept new styles of filmmaking.[27] Digital production and post-production techniques, due to their low cost and portability, added a sense of intimacy and closeness to the subjects, creating a certain “cinematic realism”

Contrary to David N. Rodowick who points to the ways in which the “perceptual realism” of classical cinema persists in digital images through the latter’s attempts to incorporate both the language of classical cinema and the defining elements of the analog image itself, Kiarostami in 24 frames opens new horizons for digital products by using their inherent nature. While the technology employed is cutting edge, the inspiration seems to come from something very simple at the core of cinema: the feeling that still pictures are not enough, and the desire for a more thorough simulacrum of life.

Considering the fundamental differences in celluloid and digital filmmaking, it seems strange that the vast majority of mainstream productions actively seek to replicate the appearance of the former. Digital compositing has become the core material of the 21st century Hollywood blockbuster, blending CGI and green-screen elements with traditional footage of actors and landscapes that only seeks to tell the same stories that cinema had during the celluloid era. Yet this normative strand of narrative cinema strives to integrate these varied elements so as to make the act of artificial collage appear seamless and unified.

The cognitive dissonance inherent in the digital composite has been largely restricted to the demands of narrative cinema and realistic representation that have come to define mainstream filmmaking. Hollywood filmmakers have tended to combine the properties of the digital image with the demands of classical narrative cinema, as well as the rigid laws of classical geometry, perceptual realism and spatio-temporal unity. A notable example of this trend is Avatar (2009), a feature constructed using ground-breaking CGI and intermediate techniques which chains its imagery to the structures of Cartesian coordinates which have come to define visual realism in cinematic art.

The widespread attempts to circumscribe the potentialities of digital technologies by using them to approximate as closely as possible the dynamic of biological vision and efface the presence of the medium have been compared by Jay and Grusin to the Persectivist tradition which has dominated Western painting since the Renaissance. “Cartesian perspectivalism”, they explain, “constituted a peculiar way of seeing that dominated Western culture from the seventeenth century to the early twentieth by allowing the Cartesian subject to control space from a single vantage point.”

In 24 frames Kiarostami keeps the audience aware that his images are artificial and he does not attempt to efface the ontological nature of them. In this regard, the audience can always realize the presence of the digital medium. The opening text of 24 frames also helps to destabilize the concept of what is real and what is not in film. We know that every short sequence is built upon a single still photograph, yet we do not know what that initial, static photograph looked like. What we see is a continuous stream of cinematic motion, rather than a still image that being driven into movement. Geoff Andrew describes the sequences of 24 frames as “mementos of the late master’s increasingly minimalist poetics, these short experiments in animating photographs and a painting teem with life’s magic and mysteries.”[28]

Kiarostami uses artificial imaging mechanisms to give life to each photograph. Instead of forcing the audience to look for the authentic elements of the composition, or for the ‘original’ photograph that initially inspired the moving frame, Kiarostami is investigating the loss of the ontological real that was inherent to the photograph and the celluloid image. Also, the repetitions of some specific frames suggests his attempt to seize the elusive concept of what is real.

With 24 framesKiarostami proves that there are huge, intact potentials of digital image yet to be discovered. The repetitions and the variable effectiveness of the frames suggests experimentation, a series of attempts to capture an elusive concept. It is no surprise that a director who muddied boundaries between documentary and fiction, and often focused on the act of making films, continued exploring new forms to this end. Kiarostami`s attempt reminds us what Will J. Mitchell argues about the photographic image during the digital era: “For a century and half photographic evidence seemed unassailably probative. An interlude of false innocence has passed. Today, as we enter the post-photographic era, we must face once again the ineradicable fragility our ontological distinctions between the imaginary and the real, tragic elusiveness of the Cartesian dream.”[29]

Kiarostami uses the potentials of the medium and connects them to the reality. Contrary to some recent attempts in photography –among them Cindy Sherman and Gregory Crewdson-  that try to evade the nature of reality and make their own virtual reality, 24 frames` images stay loyal to the reality as best as possible. In this regard, Baker best describes the path of the medium of photography in the postproduction era. He indicates that “contemporary artist photographers have taken elements of cinema into their works, so photography is less about the “photographic event” and more about a level of staged-ness these days with the photographer having complete control over the photographic event. So photography is evolving and going from narratively and stasis to non-narrative and non-stasis.”[30] In his last film, Kiarostami also attempts to create a non-narrative moving image –instead of non-narrative photography- using digital technology.

Kiarostami aims to omit all cinematic elements that are related to celluloid cinema to get to a pure cinema which is exclusive for digital platforms. His attempt connects digital cinematic images to painting rather than photography. Because the sort sequences of the film are no longer mechanical representations of the reality, in fact, every single frame is manipulated and reconstructed. In the traditional narrative film, the role of the camera is perceptually ‘erased’, and the viewer is invited to view the screen as being a simple window allowing them to view an unfolding narrative. The development of continuity style allowed for the development of codes which came to be perceived as natural, such as spatio-temporal unity, close-ups, the 180 degree rule, etc. As Manovich argues: “digital imaging must therefore be conceptualized as a symbolic art rather than an analogical one: The manual construction of images in digital cinema represents a return to nineteenth century pre-cinematic practices, when images were hand-painted and hand-animated. At the turn of the twentieth century, the cinema was to delegate these techniques to animation and define itself as a recording medium.”[31] As cinema enters the digital age, these techniques are again becoming commonplace in the filmmaking process. Consequently, cinema can no longer be distinguished from animation. It is no longer an indexical media technology but, rather, a sub-genre of painting.

To conclude, 24 Frames rejuvenates cinema’s fundamentals by experimenting with the aesthetics introduced by the medium of digital cinematography. Instead of striving for seamless integration or perceptual realism, the shorts which comprise 24 Frames foreground the artificial nature of the digitally mediated image. Each frame is comprised of a complex combination of still photography, motion footage, and CGI, all integrated into a whole that is generally unified but ontologically different.

Part 3 expressive frames

For the last part, I will focus on two frames of the film and analyze them in context of the above discussions. Since the theoretical arguments that have been discussed in previous pages are basically subjective, there is a need to clarify by analyzing some of the shots of the filmIn this regard, I chose two sequences that noticeably cover the above arguments. The very first frame is a conspicuous example of manipulating digital images for the purpose of displaying a pure image of reality, while the last frame is the most poetic frame of the film and depicts Kiarostami`s unique style in combining realism with formalism.    

The first frame is a re-imagining of Bruegel’s The Hunters in the Snow, which begins with a static image of the painting –seemingly untouched but de-materialized by the abstract mechanisms of digital scanning– before gradually adding snowflakes, smoke, and CGI animals to the foreground. This portrait is apparently the only leftover image from Kiarostami’s initial intention of the project, and obviously displays the ultimate goal of the project in a fairly straightforward manner. The painting remains untouched in the background, while a number of visual post-production effects are methodically added; there is a clear distinction between the stasis of the painting in the background and the animated movements in the foreground, making the composite completely easy to watch and understand. The only blurred aspect of this frame is the realization of which movements of animals and weather conditions are crafted in a CGI program and which are shot in front of a green screen. In other frames, however, the actual and the antifactual blend together in a way that is far more difficult to decipher.

After watching 24 frames several times, it was only when I started to watch it for another time that I realized how much wonder exists during the first frame which can only be seen through a “trained eye”. It seems we are watching nature for the very first time, a masterpiece which is always present and yet taken for granted.

For Kiarostami, it seems that this process of animating still images is a wonderful phenomenon which enables him to remind us of the wonder we had experienced while seeing early films. What Kiarostami is doing is meditating on the nature of cinema as an art form by connecting present digital filmmaking techniques with early cinema. Early films were thought of as “moving pictures.” Mulvey categorises that period as technological uncanny[32] (when cinema was considered as a marvel). The magic and wonder of early film was seeing a picture—something that’s normally static—move on its own. Early films were just short snippets: a train passing, a horse running. But these simple moving images were awe-inspiring. We have lost this sense of awe as cinema has progressed and we have gained the ability to manipulate images digitally and portray pretty much anything we want to. Kiarostami is rediscovering the bygone joy and wonder of film. Ironically, he’s doing it on his deathbed.

In his last interview in TIFF in 2016, he indicates that: “I am convinced that this sense of freedom and being natural is very important in film. Since the current cinema is not scenery anymore and we have lost the chance to see long shots. Due to quick rhythm and fast cuts of the films, everything happens so fast before our eyes that we indeed do not have the chance to see anything. thus, it is just like playing a game not watching a movie.” Then he adds: “These days I am working on a project which is a combination of 4 minute shorts that the event happens in long shot. Consequently, the viewer has the time and opportunity to witness what is happening in an open space and the director has no intention to impose the audience to see what is not natural.”   

 The final frame alone directly addresses cinema: the last shot of William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), a kiss between Teresa Wright and Dana Andrews, appears on a computer screen in a darkened room. A woman is slumped on the desk in front of it, her black hair in disarray; the screen is in front of a large window, which shows trees at night bending and keening in the wind. The kiss is slowed down —a few seconds stretched to four minutes— as Isabelle Huppert says in Hong Sangsoo’s Claire’s Camera (2017): “The only way to change things is to look at everything again very slowly,”

This scene, with the night wind, the recumbent woman, the kiss caught out of time, is a lovely and mysterious evocation of cinema as at once intimate and interior, which completely showcases Kiarostami`s formalistic style in depicting reality. It is a poetic shot that is totally based on a real event and depicts how the filmmaker aims to train our eyes to see the reality by using a new approach.

In A walk with Kiarostami, he points out that: “Curiosity and wisdom lead us to imagination and the result is reaching to a personal perception of the world, however, the whole process of imagination starts with watching.” Kiarostami`s note reminded me of a Persian poem composed by Jaleh esfahani (1921-2007) an Iranian poet, “Life is our one and only stage to show our artistic nature, everyone comes, sings their song and leaves the stage, good for the song that will be remembered by the crowd.” This poem tellingly depicts the fruitful life of Abbas Kiarostami. (RIP)

[1]  David Bordwell “Barely moving pictures: Kiarostami’s 24 FRAMES”. Posted By bordwellblog On May 17, 2018. https://bit.ly/2QVUEdJ 

[2] Maryam Ghorbankarimi, “Transcending Cinema: Kiarostami’s Approach to Filmmaking,” Iran Namag 2, no. 4 (Winter 2018): 4-18.

[3] Hayward, Susan. “Realism” in Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts (Third Edition). Routledge, 2006. pp. 334

[4]  Hayward, Susan. “Realism” in Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts (Third Edition). Routledge, 2006. pp. 335

[5]  Khatereh Sheibani, “Kiarostami and the Aesthetics of Modern Persian Poetry.” Iranian studies 39, no. 4 (2006): 509–537.

[6]  Siegfried Kracauer, Theory of Film: the Redemption of Physical Reality (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997.)

[7]   Bazin, André, and Hugh Gray. What is cinema? (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967.)

[8] Since the word practice means both training and a specific method of doing something, I used it to mention the process of watching 24 frames is a method that requires trained eyes to watch.

[9]   Sontag Susan, On Photography (New York, NY: Dell Publishing Co., 1977.),11.

[10]  Abbas Kiarostami Interview in TIFF Bell Lightbox 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1CCPg5UY-E&t=4909s 

[11]  Stam, Film Theory: An Introduction, 76-77.

[12] Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, 1207-1273 and Coleman. Barks, The Essential Rumi. San Francisco, CA: Harper, 1996.

[13]  The Modern School of Film with Abbas Kiarostami. April 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKCabzXgxso 

[14] Poul Cronon, Lessons with Kiarostami, (Sticking Place Books, 2015), 9.

[15]  “Abbas Kiarostami’s best shot”. Interview with Abbas Kiarostami, www.theguardian.com. July 29, 2009.

[16]  Ebert, Roger, “Ozu: The Masterpieces You’ve Missed”, retrieved 8 June 2014.

[17] Robert Stam, Film Theory: An Introduction (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishing Inc., 2000), 49.

[18]  Abbas Kiarostami, “An Unfinished Cinema,” text written for the Centenary of Cinema, Paris 1995, and distributed at the Odeon Theatre. Reprinted in the DVD release of The Wind Will Carry Us. For an online reproduction see “An Unfinished Cinema” by Abbas Kiarostami,” wordpress.com, https://jyothsnay.wordpress.com/2008/02/13/an-unfinished-cinema-abbas-kiarostami/.

[19]  Kristin Thompson, Breaking the Glass Armor: Neoformalist Film Analysis (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 2010), 17

[20] Thompson, Breaking the Glass Armor, 198.

[21] Thompson, Breaking the Glass Armor, 199.

[22] Thompson, Breaking the Glass Armor, 29.

[23]  David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson, Film Art : An Introduction (Princeton, N.J.: Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, 2007).

[24] Sontag, Susan. On Photography. New York, NY: Dell Publishing Co., 1977.

[25]   Christopher Gow, From Iran to Hollywood and Some Places in Between: Reframing Post-Revolutionary Iranian Cinema (London: B. Tauris, 2011),

[26] The Modern School of Film with Abbas Kiarostami. April 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKCabzXgxso 

[27] Ganz and Khatib, “Digital Cinema: The Transformation of Film Practice and Aesthetics,” 29-30.

[28] Geoff Andrew, “24 Frames Review: Abbas Kiarostami’s Living, Parting Miniatures | Sight & Sound,” (2017).

[29]  William Mitchell, The Reconfigured Eye: Visual Truth in the Post-Photographic Era (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992), p.225.

[30]  George Baker, Still Moving: Between Cinema and Photography (Duke UP, 2008)

[31]  Lev Manovich, “What is Digital Cinema?” in Post-Cinema: Theorizing 21st-Century Film, Shane Denson and Julia Leyda, eds. (Falmer: REFRAME Books, 2016), pp.22. 

[32]   Mulvey, Laura. Death 24x a Second Stillness and the Moving Image  London: Reaktion Books, 2006.

Peyman Naeemi

Contributing Writer

Peyman Naeemi is a seasoned Multimedia Specialist with over 10 years in broadcast media. Former Editor in Chief and Video Journalist, he has led diverse multimedia projects for major news agencies. Currently pursuing a Ph.D., Peyman is a dedicated environmental activist and filmmaker. Peyman’s PhD research focuses on environmental humanities and education through digital media, with a specific emphasis on environmental communication. Recently, his documentary film, “A Faithful Commitment to Sustainability” has been accepted for screening at COP28 as it showcases Canada’s green journey towards sustainability. Combining media prowess with environmental advocacy, Peyman is committed to driving positive change and inspiring action.

As a compatriot, Peyman draws immense inspiration from Abbas Kiarostami’s cinematic oeuvre, recognizing its profound contribution to expanding the horizons of cinema as well as conveying tranquil messages, including environmental themes, through aesthetic frames.

Akrami, Jamshid. A walk with KiarostamiCA: IranianMovies.com [distributor], n.d.

Cameron, James. 2009. Avatar. United States: Twentieth Century Fox.

Jean-Pierre Limosin. Abbas Kiarostami, Vérités et songes. France, 1994. 

Kiarostami, Abbas, Charles Gillibert, and Ahmad Kiarostami. 24 Frames New York: The Criterion Collection, 2019.

Kiarostami, Abbas. Five 5 long takes dedicated to Yasujiro Ozu London: BFI, 2007.

Kiarostami, Abbas. Shirin. Laguna Niguel, CA: IranianMovies.com [distributor], n.d. 

Kiarostami, Abbas., Marin. Karmitz, Juliette Binoche, and William. Shimell. Certified copy. United States: Mongrel Media, 2011.

William Wyler, and Hugo Friedhofer. THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES. USA, 1946.

Keep Reading