This Is Not A Film

This Is Not A Film

****

Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

We join the great Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi for breakfast in his apartment, while he is checking his messages in This is Not A Film. It sounds as though gunshots are going off in the distance, followed by police sirens. Panahi talks on the phone: "I can't say much on the phone… Can you come?... Don't tell anyone… Is there a problem …"

Indeed, there is a problem. Jafar Panahi, whose films The White Balloon (1995), The Circle (2000), Crimson Gold (2003) and Offside (2006) were among the best of the best at previous New York Film Festivals, is appealing a six-year prison sentence and a 20-year ban from filmmaking. Charged with collusion against the Iranian regime, he is not allowed to travel, be politically active or give interviews. Out of necessity, This Is Not A Film is shot with a digital camera by documentary filmmaker and friend Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, and by Panahi himself on his iPhone, and had to be smuggled out of the country.

Copy picture

There is a charm and grace to this "not" film that mirrors all of Panahi's previous filmic masterpieces.

A phone message from his wife (who is never seen), while he is getting dressed gives the information that "Igi's food is on the balcony." Could this be a code? Minutes later, he feeds lettuce and some cheese to Igi, who turns out to be a huge iguana. The Panahi pet, bigger than a dachshund and just as adventurous and demanding, functions as comic relief, whether it is crawling around on the sofa or seen sliding behind bookshelves while Panahi is heard talking with his lawyers.

Finding a loophole in the decree, Panahi states he is now going to read aloud a new screenplay of his and starts to stage the layout on the living room carpet with strips of yellow tape and pillows. Through his frame by frame explanations, our minds are challenged to complete the story of the girl from a strict family, who is admitted to the University to study arts but cannot get to Tehran for registration because her family locked her in the house alone while they go on a trip. Most of This Is Not A Film takes place inside a home as well, and the parallel between these two unlikely Rapunzels locked in their respective towers makes sense.

Panahi reflects on what his friend is filming and is frustrated. He feels like the sincere little girl who was acting in his film The Mirror (1997) and pulled off the fake cast she had to wear on her arm during filming because she had enough and wanted to get off the bus. "I'm not acting any more", Panahi says in reference to his own breakfast scene mentioned above.

In his wonderful Offside, a group of girls, who are great soccer fans, have to dress up as boys to go to a World Cup match in Tehran. They are impostors, like reverse Cinderellas, who are trying not to stand out at the ball and remain undiscovered to watch and not be arrested by police.

In This Is Not A Film, the doorbell rings for a food delivery and Panahi puts in the DVD from Crimson Gold, which follows a pizza delivery man on his routes and, through his eyes, opens up the whole world of crime, luxury and social injustice. Panahi fast forwards to a scene at a jewellers and talks about his work with amateur actors. "I feel what we are doing here is also a lie," he adds. Next comes a clip from his film The Circle, which chronicles a panorama of difficulties women face daily in Iranian society and how the simple act of taking a bus can turn into a hellish ordeal. The clip explains his use of space, how he directs the vertical lines of a woman running.

When Panahi looks up from something on his laptop, Igi climbs by on the sofa, then onto the keyboard, one paw up. "Most websites are filtered," he says while the iguana slowly climbs on top of him. "Your nails are hurting me," and off Igi goes, roaming about some more in the house of cinema, while his owner discusses how perhaps the reactions from artists all over the world might help his appeal in court and how at the same time, he doesn't want to put colleagues into trouble.

More of the gunshot-like fireworks can be heard, he goes outside onto the balcony of his high-rise apartment. There is a lot of construction going on, cranes everywhere, car alarms are going off. You can't help but wonder, if someone is watching him from another skyscraper or a crane. Rear Window, Tehran 2011.

Panahi talks more about the film he is not allowed to make. It has some Chekhov touches. The locked-in girl falls in love with a boy, who eyes her from the alley. The boy is in fact an agent… Panahi watches TV news about the tsunami in Japan. There is a knock at the door. It is a downstairs neighbour, who wants the filmmaker to babysit her dog Mickey. Barking like mad, Mickey stays for less than a minute and is returned to his owner, "Igi is scared." The atmosphere is tense, it is New Year, March 2011.

New Year already played a big role in Panahi's captivating Caméra d'Or winner The White Balloon, where a little girl gets into trouble because of a gold fish.

The two filmmakers, Panahi and Mirtahmasb sit across from each other and film. "When hairdressers have nothing to do, they cut each other's hair," says Panahi. "Take a shot of me, in case I'm arrested," his co-director adds. A little later, after the friend leaves, there is another knock at the door.

This is Not a Film is dedicated to Iranian filmmakers.

Reviewed on: 22 Oct 2011
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Jafar Panahi's postcard from Iran.
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Director: Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb

Year: 2011

Runtime: 75 minutes

Country: Iran


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