JDIFF 2012 Real to Reel Cinema Review: This Is Not A Film [In Film Nist]

Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2012

Real To Reel: This Is Not A Film [In Film Nist]

Sunday, 19th February, 6:00pm, Light House


This is Not a Film documents Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi’s house arrest leading up to a 6 year jail sentence for making films against the ‘Islamic regime’. Directorial credits are shared between Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb (one of six Iranian filmmakers arrested in September 2011), who shows up early in the film in order to document Panahi in his apartment. Early scenes involve Panahi simply setting up a camera, recording his phone conversations with his apologetic attorney, and the more mundane aspects of his life, such as brewing tea and doing the dishes. Once Mirtahmasb arrives, Panahi begins to read, and even perform what would have been his next film.

The film would have received attention and possibly even acclaim if it were purely a document of Panahi’s arrest, yet there are many other fascinating aspects to this film. We get great insight into Panahi’s filmmaking style and values, through his discussions and performances of his unproduced script, and even the commentaries that he provides while he watches scenes from his own films.

Panahi has consistently shown an almost unparalled ability to extract very charming and engaging performances from his mostly non-professional actors.. He even  comments on the process of direcing non-actors while watching a clip of Crimson Gold and The Mirror. Towards the end of the film, after saying goodbye to his co-director Mirtahmasb, he meets a young student who is collecting garbage on each floor of the apartment complex. Panahi follows him and interviews him for over fifteen minutes, in a revealing and hilarious sequence. Panahi seems to recognise instantly that there is something interesting about this young man and his instinct is rewarded with an accidentally beautiful climax which visually mirrors  the closing of his 2006 film Offside.

Panahi comes across as effortlessly charming, a very gentle but passionate figure. There are several moments in the film where he addresses the issue of being a subject within his own film, of whether he is in fact performing and not being himself. It provides an interesting insight into Panahi’s values as a filmmaker. In spite of his rather dire situation, he appears to be composed and calm throughout the film. There is a beautiful moment of personal resistance against his arrest, where he declares that while banned for twenty years from writing, directing, and interviews, he is not banned from acting. This calm resistance is temporarily shattered during his script reading of his unmade film, where he dejectedly asks: ‘If we could tell a film, then why make a film?’ It is unclear whether he is questioning the value of his enactment of his script, or the filmmaking process itself. One wonders if this tension led to the film being titled This Is Not a Film. The moment interestingly mirrors the famous closing scene of Pasolini’s The Decameron, where Pasolini, himself a persecuted artist,utters a very similar line.

Panahi’s films have always expressed a love of life and people against a backdrop of political repression. Panahi and Mirtahmasb have continued this concern, as they refuse to sacrifice humour and charm for a larger political theme. The film will arrive in Dublin cinemas towards the end of March, and if one is not inclined towards political films, then lovers of cinema in general will find enough thought provoking material in a work which declares itself to not be a film at all.


Kieran O’Leary

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