The Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami directed nearly two dozen feature films before his death in 2016 at 76; several of them belong in the pantheon of humanist cinema. (1997’s “Taste of Cherry” and 1999’s “The Wind Will Carry Us” are the acknowledged classics, but “Where Is the Friend’s Home?,” from 1987, is the one that floors me every time.) “24 Frames,” Kiarostami’s final work, was unfinished at his death and completed by his son, Ahmad; it’s somewhere between a film, an art installation, and a series of vaguely unsettling screensavers. If you’re a fan or a completist or if you’re in the mood for two hours of contemplative artistic wallpaper, it’s at the MFA for two weeks.
That sounds dismissive, but “24 Frames” has its beauties as well as its longueurs. An opening title card, written by the director, informs us that he has always been curious about moments that happen “before” or “after” famous paintings — still frames of time captured on a canvas — and, by extension, photographs as well. The movie then presents 24 “snapshots” and imagines four and a half minutes of digitally animated time that surround them.
In practice, this means that Pieter Breugel’s 1565 “The Hunters in the Snow” has had wisps of chimney smoke, distant crossing cattle, and a frisky pup to bring it to magic-lantern life. It’s a gimmick that expands in weight and allusive meaning when Kiarostami applies it to his own photography, which he does in the other 23 “frames.”
Many of these are nature-oriented: fields and woods during blizzards, beaches during rainstorms, clouds across an African landscape. Not much “happens,” other than birds or animals (deer, sheep, wolves) passing through, pausing, moving on. Yet there are moments of drama. Most of them involve off-screen humans: a dreamy image of a woodpile against a blue sky is gradually overwhelmed by the sound of chainsaws closing in. Gunshots punctuate a number of the segments, causing a stampede here, a fallen deer there, a seagull cut down as it wheels across the surf and is attended in death by its fellow gulls, who gather and appear to mourn.
People figure directly in only one vignette, a rear shot of six Eastern European tourists gazing across the Seine at the Eiffel Tower as Parisian passersby look curiously out at the audience. Otherwise we’re visible only by our damage or our art. One spectral “frame” shows a window looking out at a tree waving wildly in the wind as the soundtrack fills with Maria Callas singing “Un bel di vedremo” from “Madame Butterfly.” You realize that each of Kiarostami’s frames is a complete world unto itself, echoing with meanings personal and even political.
It should be noted that the film represents a three-way collaboration between Abbas, Ahmad, and animator Ali Kamili, whose work has a not-quite-real presence that nudges the experience closer to the sublime. You’ll be in the mood for it or you won’t. “24 Frames” is slow cinema at its slowest, and as meaningful as you want to make it. Above all, it breathes with the sensibility of an artist who saw beauty in people and places where most of us never thought to look.
Directed by Abbas Kiarostami. At the Museum of Fine Arts, various dates April 14-27. 114 minutes. Unrated.