Thanks to Jessica Mesman Griffith, the new editor of Good Letters, the Image film blog, I am back writing about movies again for my favorite journal about art, culture, and faith.

In my many years of writing reviews and essays about cinema, my most satisfying and rewarding experiences took place during the years I contributed perspectives on movies at Good Letters. I published a hundred essays there, covering films as distinctive and different as A River Runs Through It and Let the Right One In, Man on Wire and Empire of the Sun.

And I’m also delighted that my first subject is the enigmatic, meditative, and magical film by Abbas Kiarostami called 24 Frames.

One of the more dramatic moments in Kiarostami’s 24 Frames.

It’s not just a review. It’s a personal essay organized into nine short meditations inspired by the film. Some are personal reflections about ways in which my life correlates with Kiarostami’s vision, and some are direct examinations of the art and its beloved artist.

Here’s how it begins…


1.

We’ve been watching the bird feeder. As the day comes into focus with the bedroom window’s frame, the light catches steam rising from our morning mugs like smoke rising from sacrifices on altars. Anne and I attend, blank journals propped like tents in our laps. We are not alone. Our cats, Mardukas and Zooey, keep vigil.

The stage is set: the background, a stand of slender trees; the foreground, a moss-upholstered fence. The cast? So far, only Alan: That’s what Anne has named this pudgy, defiant squirrel who lashes his tail at the salivating, trembling cats.

Suction-cupped high on the glass, a bowl of golden seeds beneath a plastic awning looks like a see-through balcony. The bird feeder prisms the sunrise—first red, then pearl—summoning a shimmering danseuse to slowly pirouette on our bedroom wall. This miasma, Anne once said, looks to her like the Spirit christening the apostles’ heads as they sang unfamiliar languages.

Our hushed anticipation before the frame feels particularly promising today because I engaged in a similar ceremony last night: 24 times, in fact. I watched Abbas Kiarostami’s film 24 Frames. And it tuned my senses to savor pregnant pauses, readying me for surprise.

2.

In a 150-seat shoebox at the Northwest Film Forum, seated with eight or nine silent strangers in hard, unfriendly seats, I worried: Would this be worth it?

The title 24 Frames refers to two dozen short films just under five minutes each. Each one reveals a single photograph of a view—a landscape, a wilderness stage, a pastoral scene—that Kiarostami captured, often through a window. But as we stare into big-panoramic snapshots, those ocean waves advance, those storms roil—and, in an exception, a 1565 painting by Bruegel the Elder called “The Hunters in the Snow,” a dog meanders through the scene. Digital artists, at the photographer’s direction, have conjured dreamlike action within a frozen moment. Snowflakes drift. Crows, pigeons, gulls, and ducks glide, complain, and agitate. Thunder activates amorous lions. A shadow heaves at the screen’s edge, then stands: a slumbering cow, awakened by the herd. In a rare view of human beings, Muslim tourists ogle the Eiffel Tower while pedestrians pass without pausing.

Some cynical critics have called these pictures “screensavers.” At The Filmstage, Giovanni Marchini Camia writes, “The result, it must be said, is … often quite tacky.” And sure enough, two viewers at our screening surrendered by the third frame, tiptoeing down the aisles to escape what they could not quickly comprehend.

But almost all of us were slowly undone by the film’s insistent whisper.

Read the whole article — Parts 1–9 — at Good Letters.

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