Jafar Panahi’s new movie is not a film; the title says so, and if that doesn’t add up, let me start the story there.
Panahi, a protege of the great Persian director Abbas Kiarostami, is one of Iran’s leading filmmakers. His films like Offside, Crimson Gold, and The Circle have won numerous awards at international film festivals. Along with other directors like Bahman Ghobadi Mahmoud Rasoulof and Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Panahi has created a stirring new national cinema in Iran. Their films are typically little neo realist gems. Often shot with non professional actors, they present contemporary Persian life in elegant detail and gently reveal its structural issues. But these filmmakers have been hit hard by the current wave of repression in Iran. Messrs.Panahi and Rasoulof have been imprisoned and Mr. Makhmalbaf has left the country. After his latest film, No One Knows About Persian Cats, which was shot clandestinely in seventeen days with a crew staying one step ahead of disapproving policemen, Ghobadi went into exile in Iraq. Kiarostami refuses to shoot movies in Iran, locating his recent Certified Copy in Tuscany and shooting his new film in Japan.
Panahi was jailed after openly siding with the green revolution, the widespread protests that followed the fraudulent election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009. Despite an international outcry ( Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee, Robert DeNiro, Jim Jarmusch, Michael Moore, the Coen Brothers, Martin Scorsese, Sean Penn, among others, signed a petition asking for his release), Panahi was sentenced to six years of house arrest and banned from either leaving the country or making films for 20 years.
Thus, Panahi’s new movie is not a film. It was shot on a digital camera and iPhone by his friend filmmaker Mojtaba Mirtahmasb (who has also been arrested by Iranian authorities). At its core, the film is a day in the life of Panahi, who sits awaiting word from his lawyer on his appeal of the sentence, interacts with his daughter’s pet iguana, talks with neighbors and outlines a film which may never get made. Like most great Persian cinema the movie subtly questions our control over events and to some degree the absurdity of naming them, (thus. a movie called This Is Not a Film,) Mirtahmasb appeared with the film at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival after it was smuggled out of Iran on an ESB drive hidden in a cake. He gave this interview about the movie. In the credits, many names are blacked out to save those involved from trouble with the law in Iran.
The movie weaves in and out of fiction, it looks back at key moments in Panahi’s other movies, and it shows the overall strangeness of oppression in an open largely westernized society. It’s a portrait of an artist in almost surreal situation.
This is Not a Film opens at Film Forum in New York City on February 29.
See a segment here, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-1bjMZiHBY
See the trailer here, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgZy00svH08&feature=related