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This Is Not a Film (In Film Nist)
(No longer in theaters)
Iranian director Jafar Panahi’s This Is Not a Film is an extraordinary film, and one of the few in which boredom in the face of static camerawork and lack of narrative adds to the emotional wallop. The Iranian government has forbidden Panahi—who supported the opposition party—to make films for twenty years, six of which he might spend in prison. This not-a-film, set in his sumptuous apartment and shot by his friend Mojtaba Mirtahmasb (it was smuggled out of Iran in a cake in time for last year’s Cannes festival), is a brief but grueling chronicle of his impotence—as well as his compulsion to make cinema even when doing so imperils him and people he loves.
Panahi talks on the phone with his lawyer. He attempts to act out the movie he was poised to make, centering on a girl who wants to attend college but is locked in a room by her parents. He details camera moves, reads some lines, and then stops, forcing back tears. He has a smoke on his terrace and watches nearby construction cranes, then returns to say, “If I could tell a film, then why make a film?” While his pet iguana climbs the walls, Panahi plays DVDs of his other films to show where an actor’s instincts took over or the location, he says, became the director. Now he has no actors, no locations that interest him. Outside, Iranians set off fireworks for the New Year in defiance of the government: distant pops, sirens, the sounds of a mob. Inside, Panahi interviews a friendly but reticent custodian who comes to pick up the trash, and the not-a-film fades out as the young man heads into the eventful night. In totalitarian societies, artists have found all sorts of ways—some brilliantly imaginative—to disguise their political protest, but Panahi has no subterfuges left. This Is Not a Film ends with a whimper that is a bang. He must be freed.