Kiarostami: 24 Frames
“I've often noticed that we are not able to look at what we have in front of us,” said Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami (who died at the age of 76 in 2016). “Unless it’s inside a frame.” Perhaps this is why the director’s works are often punctuated with views seen from car windows, or views sought through doors — these are some of the natural framing devices we have within our lives to give things context and contours.
In keeping with this, Kiarostami’s final film 24 Frames is made up of two dozen still images that have been adapted into literal moving pictures. Bruegel’s Hunters in the Snow gains a silent narrative beyond the stillness. A horse running through a snow-covered field is reflected through what we soon realize is the lowering of a car window. The meticulous detail that went into this film took up the last 3 years of Kiarostami’s life, and was finished posthumously under the supervision of his son.
With the exception of Bruegel, the rest of the images are Kiarostami’s own photographs, speaking to another Kiarostami-ism: “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.” Or, to harken back to Sontag on photography, “One can't possess reality, one can possess images — one can't possess the present, but one can possess the past.”
In 24 Frames, Kiarostami helps us to see the movement within stillness. He gives us a leg up on seeing what we could see within the still photographs themselves, because sometimes we need that bit of enhancement. It also serves as an object lesson in the second mind-training slogan of lojong, “regard all dharmas as dreams.” Without wanting to sleepwalk through life, can we also hold true that, even if an image is framed, it is not permanent? Regardless of how fixed a scene may seem, there is a porousness that reveals the image to be anything but solid. Even in deep stillness, there is movement.
Can you hold stillness and movement together at the same time? Even in a period of meditation where it seems that nothing is progressing, can you locate some subtle movement, perhaps in the breath and the body? Can you see the moments within the frame of practice as un-solid, even as you feel yourself solidly rooted to the cushion? What happens when we hold these two realities together in the same breath?