Monday, March 5, 2012

This is not a Film

The title "This is Not a Film" is less a Magritte-style meta-artistic meme than a sort of lawyerly plea on behalf of "convicted" Iranian director Jafar Panahi, whose attorney has to explain to him that the outcome of his appeal of his 20-year filmmaking ban and 6-year prison sentence has as much to do with her legal arguments as did the conviction itself; that is to say, nothing. "It's 100% political."

Meanwhile, Panahi, out on bail, lives in house arrest at his high-rise Tehran apartment, and in "This is Not a Film" we spend 84 minutes with him, watching him take his morning bread with big gobs of marmalade, sharing the couch with his daughter's pet iguana ("Keep climbing, Igi, your nails are too sharp"), and capturing an urban fireworks display from his terrace with a cell phone camera. He also invites his documentarian friend over to record him as he reads his last rejected screenplay (rejected, that is, by the state film ministry) and shows how he would have made it into a movie. The two joke warily about whether even this act violates the terms of Panahi's punishment.

It's hard to apply traditional standards to "This is Not a Film." The emotions it inspires - a healthy dose of outrage that melts into a wistful melancholy - stem more from its back story than its cinematic content, though it manages to convey the simultaneous connectedness and dissociation of urban life in a way that for me evoked the early Denzel Washington picture "For Queen and Country." The value of this film (and it is, of course, a film) is its very existence. As Panahi's friend says, "The important thing is to keep recording. The point is that the cameras must stay on."

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