Jafar Panahi’s “This Is Not A Film”, Yet Another Iranian Triumph, Not.

This Is Not A FilmIn late 2010 the gifted Iranian film maker Jafar Panahi was sentenced to six years in jail and forbidden from make films for 20 years.

Films of his such as The Circle from 2000 and Offside from 2006 had suggested that here was yet another Iranian film maker who seemed to have successfully found a way to gently critique the land of his birth, especially its attitude to women, but to do so in such a way that the authorities were begrudgingly prepared to put up with. Not any more, alas.

Under house arrest, and forbidden from in any way being seen to make films, he invited a film maker friend of his around to record a day in his life. Lightheartedly at first, he begins to act out the film that he’d hoped to be making. It’s a story of a girl imprisoned in her own home, forbidden by her traditional parents from leaving to pursue her studies at university.

But as he tries to tell the film, all levity suddenly evaporates, and the hopelessness of his situation finally dawns on him. You can’t tell a film, that’s not what a film is. And suddenly, the title’s no longer funny or mischievous, but quietly tragic. He might never make a film ever again. And he’s probably on his way to gaol, for years.

Something quite remarkable happened to Iranian cinema about 20 years ago. Its natural mode had always been that of neorealism. So when we see the boy impatiently asking an elder for directions in Kiarostami’s Where Is The Friend’s Home from 1987, the old man continues preparing his pipe before stirring himself to reply.

His face seems to say, empires rise and empires fall, but nothing ever really changes, so I might as well enjoy my smoke before eventually addressing your question – which by the way, and unsurprisingly, I’ll not be able to help you with.

But in 1990 Kiarostami made a completely different kind of film, with the brilliant Close Up. It follows a man who impersonates another major Iranian film maker, Mohsan Makhmalbaf. But as you watch what appears to be a documentary, you realize that a lot of what you’re seeing must in fact have been re-enacted. And the film’s subject, truth and lies, is mirrored by the form it takes to tell its story, as it becomes increasingly difficult to untangle fact from fiction.

The following year in ’91 he made a documentary cum feature film about the actors from Where Is My Friend’s Home called Life And Nothing More. And in ’94 he made Through The Olive Trees, which was a film about the actors in that film and the tension between how they treated one another on and off set. In other words, he made a film, about a film, about a film.

Then in ’96, Makhmalbaf, he of Close Up, made a remarkable film about a film maker making a film about an incident in his youth, when he’d stabbed a policeman. But the film, provocatively titled A Moment of Innocence, starred the actual policeman playing his older self, advising the actor who was cast as his younger self!

Most remarkably of all, Makhmalbaf’s 18 year old daughter Samira then made a stunning film called The Apple in ’98, about which I’ll say nothing other than I defy anyone to unpick which scenes were fictionalized and which bits actually happened.

So when we see the forlorn Panahi pointing his iPhone at his friend, as his friend films him in his apartment in This Is Not A Film, it’s a particularly poignant image. Here are two Iranian film makers engaged in a yet another fascinating exploration of artifice and the film making process, and how it can impinge on the every day lives of ordinary people. It’s an artistic conversation that we in the rest of the world have been hypnotized by and have watched and listened to in awe and wonder.

What an amazing country, to have produced so many serous film makers producing such an extraordinary variety of films. A Separation for instance, is a completely different kind of film (reviewed here). And yet here is yet another major film maker quietly questioning the country he loves and lives in.

But what was once a source of domestic pride has been transformed into one of national shame. The authorities in Iran appear to be incapable of seeing the wood from the trees. And instead of celebrating one of their many, brilliant film makers, they’re sending one of them to gaol. Shame on you.

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Trackbacks

  1. […] on there in the 80s and 90s. You can read about that in my review of Panahi’s This Is Not A Film here. Who by the way is pre­sum­ably still under house arrest […]

  2. […] drama in the cin­ema. Films from Atom Egoyan, Asghar Farhadi reviewed ear­lier here, Julio Medem, Jafar Panahi reviewed ear­lier here, Lynne Ram­say, Tod Solondz, and Tran Anh Hung. And of course David Lynch. But they are very much […]

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