Tuesday, May 8, 2012
This is Not a Film
Nothing terrifies a tyrant like an artist. How else to explain the absurd cruelty of the Iranian government’s punishment of director Jafar Panahi for the dubious crime of making propaganda against the state? Slapped with a six-year prison sentence and 20-year filmmaking ban, the director offers up a defiant response with This is Not a Film. Confined to his home as he appeals the decision, Panahi does what any compulsive filmmaker would do: he makes art out of his own inability to make art. He invites his friend Mojtaba Mirtahmasb over to record him describing his most recent script, struggling to conjure up the ghost of the film he would have made with only some tape on the floor, a few words on the page and his own voice. He fails, of course. “If you could tell a film, then why make a film?” he asks, on the verge of tears. The film becomes a story of absences, of films that cannot be made, of a world of turmoil and upheaval that lay just outside Panahi’s apartment. In the film’s final, exhilarating moments, Panahi picks up his camera—a criminal act, essentially—and follows the building’s garbage man into the elevator. Outside, fireworks crackle like distant gunfire. In the alley, figures dance around a fire, pouring gasoline on it and jumping back when the flames roar up. Panahi sneaks out onto the street against the warnings of his companion. It is a dangerous thing he does. But holding the camera, he seems momentarily invincible.