This Is Not a Film, Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb (U)

5.00

An Iranian film director banned from making movies and placed under house arrest has the perfect answer: a masterpiece about house arrest

Film-makers are forever being complimented for taking risks. As often as not, this means no more than casting Judi Dench against type, or attempting to fuse a romcom with a heist thriller. Really taking risks is another matter. Last year, the Iranian film-maker Jafar Panahi was sentenced by a court in his country to six months' imprisonment and forbidden to write or direct films for 20 years. Panahi, a supporter of Iran's opposition movement, was accused of working against the ruling system. Several of his films have been banned in Iran, and certainly tend to offer a critical view of life there. The Circle (2000) is an ensemble piece showing how the odds are stacked against Iranian women; Crimson Gold (2003) is a superb city drama about a disturbed pizza delivery man in Tehran.

Critics have sometimes, unfairly, ranked the realist Panahi below his former employer Abbas Kiarostami, who has special auteur cachet as a formal innovator. Panahi has seemed less experimental, until now. His new work plays mischievous games with our idea of what a film is – while being a very direct and compelling statement about his current plight.

This Is Not a Film is essentially a video diary, following Panahi through a day while under house arrest in his Tehran flat last spring, and contemplating his judicial appeal. Panahi isn't filming himself – that's the whole point, he's not allowed to. Instead, he's filmed – by the camera that his son, who's away, has obligingly set up, and by his friend Mojtaba Mirtahmasb (credited as co-author) who drops by to keep him company.

Left cooling his heels indoors, Panahi stands contemplating the city outside, heard as a hubbub of noises off. He talks on the phone with his lawyer, one of several unseen female presences in the film: another is a young neighbour who wants him to look after her yapping dog. He also feeds his daughter's pet iguana, Igi, a fellow prisoner in the "cell" of the Panahi home, but one who makes the most of what freedom he has – clambering over the director's chest, or scaling the back of the bookcases.

The day's main business, however, is making a film – or not making one. Mirtahmasb films Panahi while he describes his latest script, turned down by the authorities: a story about a young woman whose parents lock her in their home rather than let her go to university. As he maps out the locations in his flat, Panahi is at once expressing solidarity with people like the young woman, and describing his own claustration. He also shows clips from his own work. In one, a child actress is captured on film suddenly deciding she's had enough; she walks off, protesting: "I'm not acting!"

What a luxury that would be for Panahi, who has no choice but to play the lead in his own drama.

It's hard to know exactly what we're watching in this exercise. Sometimes Panahi and Mirtahmasb appear to be acting out a pre-scripted drama in documentary form, a formal conceit that offers the opportunity to mull over what it means to make a film. It's a topic that might have been merely navel-gazing – except that, in this case, Panahi's fate hangs not just on a philosophical but also a technical definition of his art. But at moments, his wry good humour subsides, and genuine fatigue and uncertainty seem to show on Panahi's features. The poignant thing about his and Mirthahmasb's enterprise is that they don't make a big deal about film-making being a matter of life and death: it's just what they do, and what else are they supposed to occupy themselves with? "When hairdressers have nothing to do," Mirtahmasb says, "they cut each other's hair."

This Is Not a Film premiered in Cannes last May after reportedly being sneaked out of Iran on a USB stick baked in a cake (a nice variation on the file-in-a-cake smuggled into prisons). Mirtahmasb has been arrested since, although is apparently now free, awaiting trial; while Panahi, who had previously been jailed, has had his appeal rejected. According to recent reports, he is currently free – and no longer under house arrest – but can be sent back to jail at any time. It's hard to know how the Iranian authorities feel about the international exposure given to Panahi's film, or not-film – and he surely knew when making it that he was taking a major personal risk.

The result is a superb piece of cinema, and something that's not cinema – passionate resistance, a humorous cri de coeur, a message in a bottle sent to the world, and a way for Panahi to keep his hand in.

As he says early on: "Somehow I'm making an effort." This spare, modest offering may not seem like much, but in terms of Panahi's life and future, and as a statement of faith in the power of the moving image, it's a work of staggering importance.

Film Choice

Euro-star Cecile de France gets in gear in The Kid With the Bike, the latest from Belgium's Dardenne brothers, superbly economical storytellers who draw all their dramatic material from a declining local steel-town. There's murder mystery with a dash of Chekhov in Nuri Bilge Ceylan's finest film yet, the sublime Once Upon a Time in Anatolia.

Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
    UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

    39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

    There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
    Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

    Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

    The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
    10 best barbecue books

    Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

    We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
    Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

    No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

    Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
    Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

    Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

    The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
    Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

    Something wicked?

    Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
    10 best sun creams for body

    10 best sun creams for body

    Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

    Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
    Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

    There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

    The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed