|Jafar Panahi in This is Not a Film.|
Knight of Eye C-ydonia
By Ed Rampell
When an AFI Film Festival official introduced this remarkable documentaryat the Chinese 1 Theater he lamented that the Iranian filmmakers behind and in front of it could not be present to do so themselves, as their passports had been seized and they were being detained by authorities of the Islamic Republic. At the end of this nonfiction rumination on – as co-director Jafar Panahi puts it -- “filmmakers not making films” – some audience members shouted: “Free Iran.”
Faced with unspecified crimes against the state, Jafar Panahi, whose 1995 The White Balloon won the Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, has been forbidden from making movies in Iran or to leave the country where he could conceivably do so, for 20 years. So he collaborated with another filmmaker, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb (2008’s Lady of the Rose), to co-direct the pithily named This is Not a Film. The documentary records a day in the life of Panahi in his Tehran apartment, as he speaks on the phone with his attorney about the possibility of going to jail and from being banned from making movies.
Panahi tries to find some wiggle room from that onerous sentence, as it does not explicitly forbidden his reenacting and in particular reading the scripts he’s written of films he’d like to shoot. The defrocked director also screens clips from some of his previously made movies, as Mirtahmasb shoots him. There are a number of long takes and a kind of monitor lizard named Igi steals several scenes as he slithers about Panahi’s posh apartment. Throughout, the director -- who is presumably under some sort of house arrest -- generally retains his composure, only blowing his cool a couple of times when considering the injustice of not being able to practice his avocation for, perhaps, up to two decades. Considering the constraints he is acting under, Panahi seems to hold up well and, like his colleague behind the camera, admirable.
Towards the end an art student moonlighting as a janitor while his sister delivers her baby appears to collect and throw the garbage out. In the course of his conversation with the apartment dweller/noted director, Panahi corrects a comment the university pupil makes and insists that yes indeed, one “can make a film with [only] a cell phone” video camera. Panahi and Mirtahmasb prove that creativity and ingenuity not only trump technology and production budgets, but also political censorship. For my money, this film is far better than anything Michael Bay has ever helmed with his mega-million budgets.
The aptly titled This is Not a Film is also a testament to artists resisting repression, and to humanity refusing to accept persecution. In any case, it turns out that the clever This is Not a Film not only is, but this documentary, apparently entirely shot in a single day, has earned a rarefied spot in cinema history.
To paraphrase Winston Churchill’s commendation of the RAF: Never have so few done so much with so little. Panahi and Mirtahmasb are filmic freedom flyers. Portentously set against the backdrop of New Year’s celebrations in Iran and perhaps anti-government demonstrations in Iran, this documentary made against all odds somehow manages to end on a note of hope. Yes, “free Iran” indeed.
And while we’re at it, lest we Westerners get smug, free Julian Assange, too!