Home alone – This Is Not a Film review

This Is Not a Film – Directed by Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb. Rated G. Originally published March 5, 2012. By Simon Miraudo.

This Is Not a Film arrives on DVD in Australia April 18, 2012.

Jafar Panahi may claim his latest isn’t a film, but it certainly says more about the craft of cinema, as well as the human compulsion to create art, than any other recent release. The famed Iranian filmmaker was sentenced to six years in prison for supposedly producing “propaganda against the Islamic republic.” If that sentence wasn’t enough, the government also deemed that he should not be allowed to make another movie for 20 years. And, seeing as This Is Not a Film is merely a diary-like record of the boredom and frustration he felt whilst under house-arrest and, well, not a film, he is honouring their wishes. (But, just in case, the picture was smuggled out of the country on a USB stick – and in a cake – so that we, and the cinema community, could appreciate it.)

Panahi passes time in his lovely abode by caring for his daughter’s pet iguana, finishing chores set by his wife, and mournfully re-watching his old films (even the B-roll footage) as if they might transport him outside of his comfortable jail cell. There are references to fireworks displays outside, but they echo eerily like gunshots and police sirens. He occasionally takes calls from his lawyer, who is desperately working on reversing the state’s outrageous decision. Perhaps, Panahi wonders, they might fold to international pressure? For instance, if he could convey to the world that it’s not only his body being imprisoned, but his heart too.

Whether he’s inspired by his desire to be freed, or his innate desire to make movies, Panahi calls up colleague Mojtaba Mirtahmasb and invites him to help record his day-to-day routine. At one point, he attempts to read aloud a screenplay that the government rejected, empowered that it might find life in this new form. Half-way through, he laments, “If we could tell a film, why would we make it?” He then pulls up one of his older pictures, and highlights the performance of one amateur actor and all of the unique choices made in the moment. That is why you make a movie; to find the truth and translate the reality of the situation. Panahi and his co-conspirator are eventually reduced to recording one another chatting aimlessly, which inspires Mirtahmasb to remark, “When hairdressers have nothing to do, they cut each other’s hair.”

Despite Panahi doubting the meaning and authenticity of the eventual final product, he can’t stop filming things, like a character from found footage flicks Chronicle and Cloverfield. But it’s when he stops focusing on reciting stage directions that he finds some cinematic gold. His interest turns to the apartment block’s part-time custodian, whom he follows with the camera and coaxes out an interesting tale. Suddenly, the filmmaker has a subject, and, better yet, it’s an amateur making unique choices in the moment.

This Is Not a Film, much like A Separationreveals a domestic side of Iran rarely seen in cinema. Since we never leave Panahi’s well-furnished home, a viewer could be convinced that the events are taking place in Los Angeles. But, also like A Separation, it never abandons the social mores of its location. Iran, for all its similarities, is different. Panahi, angry and heart-broken, does not rail against his nation for 75 minutes. He spends the time explaining to us why he loves film. It is not a protest; it is a plea. This is not a filmmaker who is a threat to his country; this is a national – and international – treasure.

4/5

Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

This Is Not a Film arrives on DVD in Australia April 18, 2012.

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