This Is Not a Film
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Renowned Iranian director, Jafar Panahi, received a 6-year prison sentence and a 20-year ban from filmmaking and conducting interviews with foreign press due to his open support of the opposition party in Iran's 2009 election. In this documentary, which was secretly shot on an iPhone by Panahi's close friend Mojtaba Mirtahmasb and smuggled into France in a cake for a last-minute submission to Cannes, Panahi shares his day-to-day life as he awaits for a decision on his appeal.
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After the Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi was convicted of subversion, part of his sentence included a 20-year prohibition on writing or directing movies. In response, he has another filmmaker record him through the course of a day, as he sits in his apartment, calls his attorney, and checks up on family members who are out buying a gift for his mother. In one sequence, Panahi describes scenes from a script he is working on, about a girl whose family leaves her locked inside their house to prevent her from registering for college. The girl's plight in the script mirror's Panahi's own as he is also trapped by factors outside his control. At several points, the sound of what appears to be gunfire is audible from outside; Panahi is strangely calm until we realize that this is part of a fireworks celebration.
After the other filmmaker leaves, Panahi follows a substitute garbageman on his rounds, filming him with his cell phone as he collects trash from other residents in the building, and finally following him outside where they are confronted with people lighting a fire. The garbageman asks, "should you be filming this?" Panahi responds that he's not.
Filmed in secret and smuggled out of Iran, "This Is Not a Film" is a testament to the endless struggle of the artist against a system devoted to suppressing him. By turns fascinating, frustrating, and courageous, this film, which is, regardless of its title, very much a film, should not be missed.
It’s a noble venture, but as a filmmaker himself, Panahi quickly realizes the futility of his stunt, as he concludes, “If we can tell a film, why make a film?” then dissolves into tears. The rest of the movie, therefore, is taken up with Panahi screening parts of his older films while providing running commentary on his artistic choices, discussing everyday concerns with Mirtahmasb, and awaiting word of his fate.
The movie is certainly an indictment of the repressive society in which he lives, yet it also demonstrates that film comes in many forms, and while Panahi may be unable to make the dramatic feature he would like to, it is an equally valid and valuable form of artistic expression to simply document his own real life experience for others to observe - and just as powerful in its effect.
And, indeed, the most compelling scene in the movie is a completely extemporaneous one, as Panahi interviews a substitute custodian who stops by to pick up Panahi’s trash when the camera just happens to be running and we get to know a little something about this utterly charming man’s life in the few unguarded moments we get to spend with him. It’s a subtle yet potent reminder that no regime, however cowardly and repressive, can completely dim the human spirit and our basic human need to connect with one another on a personal level.
The movie, which was spirited out of the country on a flash drive hidden inside a cake, functions as a frank political statement for what life is like for film artists living in Iran, but, equally important, it makes the rest of us appreciate the freedoms of expression we all too often take for granted in our own parts of the world - and the need to be ever vigilant in preserving them.
He has a lizard the size of a cat and then a dog shows up. Eventually some guys show up to chat, he takes an elevator ride.
All subtitled. occasional insight.