24 Frames ★★★½

DISCLAIMER: I only saw 19 of the 24 frames, but each functions according to the same principle...

Kiarostami explores the power of photography via the power of film in a (too long) series of "photographs in time." I found myself at once bored and entranced, my mind racing as I tried to figure out why such simple clips made me feel so lucky to be alive. Here are blurbs about my conclusions.

A photograph captures a moment and suggests a movement, precisely because it cannot capture movement itself. Instead, it captures the impression, the sensation of movement, and lets the viewer fill the blanks, the just-before and the just-after moments. That's why photographs, despite their stillness, can be so touching - so moving (the word itself implies movement). The imagination is triggered by an image and life appears in our head.

Photographs offer the viewer a certain freedom. They only hint at movement, but it is up to the spectator to imagine that movement and that evolution of the object pictured, through time. This freedom, and the mystery of what happened just before and just after the second when the picture was taken, make for an exhilarating experience. Anything could happen, or have happened.

Video, by contrast, doesn't capture the sensation of movement, but movement itself, because it captures time. The spectator therefore doesn't get to imagine what has happened or will happen, because she can see what actually happens at every moment. Yet while the exhilaration of freedom and imagination gets lost in the process, the fact that video captures life itself provides a new excitement. Life itself, in its movement and its time, is captured for us to see directly, as it really is, instead of how we imagine it to be.

But capturing movement could make for a boring and lifeless experience precisely because the unexpected nature of life can get lost. Once filmed, the events are set in stone, they have happened and any time we watch them, they will happen in the same way. An example of this disappointing and boring loss of unpredictability would be the Boomerang option on Instagram: it captures the moments just before and just after a photograph, it feels like an animated picture. But as it goes back and forth from the beginning to the end of that moment, it is clear that nothing else will happen, it's all here, and more importantly, it's mechanical: the person smiling or jumping is turned into a robot, caught forever in this loop and deprived of her freedom of movement. Only one movement is possible for her, and the spectator can't imagine any other movements for this person.

Kiarostami animates pictures in a way that gives them back their life and unpredictability, instead of stripping them away by making movement mechanical. Starting with a photograph, he makes explicit the movements that are suggested in it: snow falls, a chimney starts emanating smoke, birds fly. Contemplation opens up the image to life, as when standing for long in front of a painting, you start seeing things move in it, as if by themselves. The animation remains lively because Kiarostami doesn't force anything to happen, but instead let's things occur, his camera always static and patient. Movement is organic and never repeated.

But what truly makes those "photographs in time" organic and exhilarating is their capturing of time through the ultimate spatiotemporal event: the cycle of life and death. Birds and deer are seen alive, then dead, shot by an invisible hunter, and the camera remains on them long after their passing, showing life continuing for the still-alive animals and for the wind, the rain, the sun. Photography can't provide this experience because it can't capture time itself; one has to imagine death occurring eventually, if one is willing. Video makes us confront the inevitability of death, the inability to go back to life after death. By including death in his clips, Kiarostami highlights at once the liberating mysterious and imaginary power of the photograph, and the power of video to capture life itself, as we experience it in the world. Both photography and videography are exciting, but in wildly different, opposite ways, that Kiarostami understands and appreciates equally.

PS: The one issue with this precise and incredibly effective exploration of the power of film is that I wanted to leave the theatre to see the life that Kiarostami was depicting, in its variability and unpredictability, for myself -and I did.