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This Is Not a Film

Posted by martinteller on December 27, 2012

While waiting to hear the results of his appeal on a 6-year prison sentence and 20-year ban from filmmaking, Iranian director Jafar Panahi invites colleague Mojtaba Mirtahmasb over to his apartment to document his waiting.  The work is credited to both directors, and is listed as an “effort” rather than a “film”.  Panahi (who looks like a cross between Pedro Almodovar and comedian Todd Glass) discusses some of his past work, browses the restricted internet for comments on the situation, tries to relate a screenplay that he was prohibited from making, watches the fireworks celebration outside, and chats with a young man collecting the trash.

What is a film?  A script brought to life with sound and moving images, you might say.  But what about documentaries, or improvisations?  Okay, then a combination of sound and moving images that tell a story.  But that excludes many non-narrative/experimental films.  So, just a combination of sound and moving images.  What about silents?  We can say a film is simply anything with moving images.  But there could be a film of a static image.  Perhaps we should say just that, like art, a film is whatever the creator says is a film, as long as there are multiple images in succession, whether they depict movement or not.  We gotta draw a line somewhere.  One single frame is not a film.  So then what if the creator(s) says “This is not a film,” even though all our senses and experiences tell us it is?  Do we give him the final say?  The Iranian officials certainly would not.

These are some of the questions raised in Panahi’s (and Mirtahmasb’s) documentary.  Like many other Iranian films that deal heavily with meta themes, there are questions that arise as to the authenticity.  Was Mina in The Mirror told to break the fourth wall… and is this student picking up the trash actually an actor?  His arrival, and the provocative final image he leads us to, seem awfully fortuitous.  It’s one of the great joys of these meta films for me… the questions are raised, and the answers aren’t necessarily as important as the asking.  Whether or not certain statements and commentaries are intended, they are there to be savored and mulled over.

The film/not-film has humor as well, like Panahi’s somewhat tentative relationship with his daughter’s pet iguana, Igi.  There is a lightness to everything, this is not a man preoccupied with gloomy thoughts of what lies ahead.  He simply tries to do what he can.  Narrating his screenplay is interesting to the viewer, but proves frustrating for him.  He gets more joy when he can pick up that camera and point it at a subject, “directing” him in ways that could be interpreted as forbidden to him… telling him to leave the elevator first, prompting him with questions.  Is he filmmaking when he does this?

A nicely thought-provoking “effort”, and an entertaining breeze to watch.  Rating: Very Good (89)


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