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 & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit