The poetic final film by Abbas Kiarostami blends photography and digital filmmaking, drawing directly on the director’s previous work, to provoke deep reflections on art, time and the nature of reality.
By Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa
24 Frames (2017), the last film by Abbas Kiarostami, is a feature length experimental work comprising twenty-four vignettes, each four-and-half minutes long and shot mostly in black and white. The majority of these vignettes take place in natural surroundings. In fact, the first shot, of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s painting The Hunters in the Snow (1565), establishes the template for most of the following scenes, which portray different kinds of animals and birds moving around in snowy landscapes. Elsewhere in the film, hunters are kept offscreen but we hear their gunshots. In one instance, they kill a bird and in another, a peaceful fawn. Other segments of the film focus on interior spaces, represented by large, dark windows that reveal only a limited view of the natural world beyond them (birds, or trees, or their shadows). With the exception of the homage to Bruegel, all of the segments are based on Kiarostami’s own photographs.
In 2015, Kiarostami confirmed that he was working on the project, which he began after completing his previous feature, Like Someone in Love (2012). His death in July 2016 meant the film remained unfinished. The final stages of its post-production were completed by his son, Ahmad Kiarostami, who prepared the film for its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in spring 2017. 
The idea for the film is encapsulated in a quotation of Kiarostami’s, which appears as text at the beginning of the film:
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 a famous painting but then switched to photos I had taken through the years. I included about four and half minutes of what I imagined might have taken place before or after each image that I had captured. 
With 24 Frames Kiarostami experiments with different tools to fabricate a deceptive sense of reality, a process that started with the inclusion of the video footage in the final scene of Taste of Cherry (1997) and continued through the use of a digital camera to shoot ABC Africa (2001), Ten (2002) and his subsequent films. With his short Take Me Home (2016) Kiarostami began constructing a digital reality through animation and compositing (using green screen to combine different images into one) to further explore the concept of the illusive deception of realism. But in his final film, not only does he manipulate the images, he also blurs the borders between photography (frozen time) and cinema (real time), generating a sense of dialogue between his photographic and cinematic work. In this sense, Kiarostami becomes more self-referential. 
In one of the vignettes, a still image is shown of a group of tourists viewing the Eiffel Tower, with their backs to the camera. Soon, snow starts to fall and we see some pedestrians walking in the foreground and later a woman crossing the screen singing the jazz standard ‘Autumn Leaves’. The still image, frozen in time (the past) and the footage of the snow and people moving (in real time) make us aware of the two different levels of reality within the frame. It is through this combination that a sense of nostalgia, melancholy and loss is evoked.
The tone and mood of Kiarostami’s film is reminiscent of Forough Farrokhzad’s, poem, ‘Let’s Believe in the Beginning of the Cold Season’:
And this is I
a woman alone
at the threshold of a cold season
at the beginning of understanding
the polluted existence of the earth
and the simple and sad pessimism of the sky
and the incapacity of these concrete hands.
Let us believe in the beginning
of the cold season.