[Review] – This Is Not a Film

25 Mar

Title: This Is Not a Film
Year: 2012
Directors: Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb
Writer: –
Starring: Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Runtime: 75 min
IMDb Rating: 8.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Metacritic: 89

I hadn’t watched a single great film in all of March, not since The Secret World of Arrietty, which I saw on the last day of February, have I really loved a film. Well, that all changed upon watching This Is Not a Film today. This is a documentary that was very simply done and shot, and that’s just as good because it’s precisely those qualities that only heightens the impact it can have as a political statement, and you can feel the weight of the whole reality it presents. It’s a film that was shot on an iPhone, smuggled from Iran to France in a flash-drive hidden inside a birthday cake to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival, made by Jafar Panahi while he was under house arrest, awaiting the result of his appeal of a six year prison sentence and a twenty year ban on filmmaking, leaving the country of speaking to the media.

Pretty extraordinary circumstances, if you ask me. And This Is Not a Film really brings forth an interesting insight into the artistic mind, as we see Mr. Panahi not only getting bored and desperate with the waiting, but thinking about the possibility of a negative answer to his appeal which would essentially mean his artistic death. We see him decide to film his surroundings, enlisting his friend and collaborator Mojtaba Mirtahmasb to film him in his apartment, to have someon to talk to, to share a treatment for a film he had been planning to make before he got banned from doing so; just really trying to salvage his artistic spirit, as we dig into what film can mean.

This is a truly spectacular film to watch, an irrefutable triumph of film, one that was made against all odds by a man who just couldn’t be quieted down by his own country, and that, by being thrown so many obstacles, has crafted a tremendously powerful film, an act of defiance in the face of political censorship; this is a film, though one unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and one that’s truly amazing, an inspiring look at what you can do if you want it badly enough, no matter the roadblocks you encounter. Because it really is inspiring, you know, watching this guy be courageous enough to stand against the repression his government was trying to exact upon him, watching true artistry come out on top.

It’s truly an outstanding achievement, this is something that came out of boredom in a way, and the because it did, because it has no narrative and because it mostly is just a steady camera, it means that the emotional punch can be felt thoroughly throughout. Not to mention that it’s not much longer than an hour, so it goes by quite fast, time enough to really see how desperate he felt about his situation, and just how much he loves filmmaking and the lengths he’ll go do to it even it means putting himself at risk. Though he technically does follow the rules of the ridiculous and mean-spirited injunction: there was no script, and there was no real camera. This is pure creativity doing everything it can to find its way out to the world, which in this case meant traveling inside a birthday cake.

Yet it’s in that simplicity that this film finds its strengths, that it becomes so subtly haunting and such a pitch-perfect representation of the sense of urgency that does exist in that part of the world. This is a guy speaking in volumes, and it’s so much more than just an act of rebellion against government opression, and it’s so much more than that precisely because at first look it seems like so much less. We see a man talking on the phone with his lawyer, watching bits and pieces of film’s he’s made in the past, speaking about the ones he wanted to make in the future but his government won’t let him, and every now and again, as you watch the man so used to observing now accustoming himself to being the one observed, you see him fighting back tears, you realize what it all means to him.

This Is Not a Film takes its title from the fact that the man behind it can’t make films, and from the fact that there’s no actual plot. But the narrative encompassed in these seventy-five minutes is so brilliantly charged, bursting through its seams with a really potent message. Whatever this is, film or not, it’s a seriously spectacular experience that’s quite hard to put into actual words; and I really don’t want to get into the little things that make this film, especially the last half hour or so of it, so damn great to watch, so moving and meaningful. This is a film we should appreciate, and that I will urge everyone to try and get to watch, following A Separation‘s Oscar win, and now seeing this one, I guess it’s pretty safe to say Iranian cinema is at a pretty great point right now, too great in fact for governments to try and censor.

Grade: A-

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