For what would prove to be his final film, Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami gave himself a challenge: to create a dialogue between his work as a filmmaker and his work as a photographer, bridging the two art forms to which he had dedicated his life. Setting out to reconstruct the moments immediately before and after a photograph is taken, Kiarostami selected twenty-four still images—most of them stark landscapes inhabited only by foraging birds and other wildlife—and digitally animated each one into its own subtly evolving four-and-a-half-minute vignette, creating a series of poignant studies in movement, perception, and time. A sustained meditation on the process of image making, 24 Frames is a graceful and elegiac farewell from one of the giants of world cinema.
Abbas Kiaroastami’s final film (released after his death) 24 Frames receives a Blu-ray edition from the Criterion Collection, who present the film in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1. It is delivered here on a dual-layer disc with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode.
The film is basically an animated film and was completed digitally so it has never touched film before making its way to this home video release. It’s possible some corrections were made beforehand (the notes for the presentation don’t mention this) but the original digital files are the source of what we get here. The images are striking throughout, but they do vary in sharpness: some are razor sharp while others have a bit of a haze to them. I’m sure this is all intentional and inherent in the material that inspired these segments (some of the animations are based on photos Kiarostami had taken, one is based on a painting, and others are entirely created from his imagination for this film), but the image is always clean and noise is not an issue. Black and white sequences look wonderful, with rich whites and blacks, and clean tonal shifts in between, and the colour sequences really do pop off screen, one sequence’s blue sky looking amazing. When details are sharp they are razor sharp, perfectly crisp and clean, and those fine details work their way through without issue.
There are some artifacts that look to be related to the animations themselves, the digitization being a bit obvious, but this has nothing to do with the encode. Outside of this, though, I feel the film looks as it is intended to look and the encode doesn’t present any issues whatsoever.
The audio was a very pleasant surprise! Presented in DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround each segment gets its own unique but active mix. Some of the sequences (or “Frames”) have simple mixes that focus on the fronts, but there is clear natural movement as you hear objects move from one end to the other, or as the waves come crashing in, or as various creatures scurry about. Some of the more impressive moments have a wind whipping around the viewer, or the rain crashing down. There are moments where it really sounds like there is something directly above you as well, the direction being particularly striking. There can be an artificiality to some of the sound effects but overall the mix is incredible, volume levels and range are beautifully managed, and fidelity is excellent. I thought it was an incredible surround presentation.
The release kills it in the A/V department, but Criterion drops the ball somewhat with the supplements. Considering the story behind the film, the technical elements, and the fact it was Kiarostami’s last film, this release feels unusually light, though the borderline no-frills aspect works with the minimalism of the film.
There is a short 9-minute interview with the director’s son, Ahmad Kiarostami. His father had worked on this project for years but passed away before finishing it, so Ahmad picked up where his father left off and finished the film. He explains how his father had come up with around 30 or more “frames” but only intended 24 to be used, so Ahmad needed to figure out what segments to use and how to edit it all together.
How he edited the film proved to be a bit controversial, as pointed out in the next interview, which is between Godfrey Cheshire and Jamsheed Akrami, with some feeling the filmmaker wouldn’t have constructed it similarly (Akrami really questions the film opening with a frame around a painting). The 10-minute conversation also has the two talk about the photography, how the film represents a natural progression in Kiarostami’s work, which was becoming more minimalist as he went, and they also address how Kiarostami apparently intended for the film to be shown in museums. They also mention how home video may prove perfectly fine for it, Akrami agreeing, especially on his new 82” television he had just purchased.
The interviews do a fine job explaining the history and purpose of the film, but they still feel to be only skimming the surface. A 14-minute “making-of” called Print: In Memory of Abbas Kiarostami fills in things a bit more as we get to see behind-the-scene footage of Kiarostami working on the film, preparing effects shot (including filming passer-bys for his Eiffel Tower “frame”) and then working on the animations on the computer. The bonus of this is we actually get to see samples from a couple of segments around a couple of paintings that didn’t make it into the film.
The disc then closes with the Janus theatrical trailer, and the included insert includes a rather lengthy essay by Bilge Ebiri, who offers an excellent breakdown of the film and even offers a deeper look at a few of the individual segments. Despite the couple of interview features we do get I still felt the academic angle was missing, but Ebiri’s essay fills in those holes.
So the material is fine but with this being Kiarostami’s last film I guess I would have expected a bit more about the director and his work, maybe some more academic material around the segments. I did enjoy what was here but it’s barely over a half hour worth of material.
The lack of material is frustrating, though at least all of it is fine. But the A/V presentation is great, the audio being particularly surprising.