74 minutes

Glib as the pun may be, there is no denying that Iranian directors Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb' self-proclaimed "effort" delivers exactly what its title says. This Is Not a Film, indeed, though it certainly is cinema - self-referential, meta-fictional, partly cinéma-vérité partly on-camera improvisation, following a day in the home-bound life of Mr. Panahi as he waits to hear about the appeal of the harsh sentence he was given by the Iranian courts: a six-year jail term and a twenty-year interdiction of directing and/or writing a film. The equally Kafkian response to the Kafkian predicament Mr. Panahi finds himself in - what is a filmmaker to do when he cannot do a film? - is to make a film that isn't one.

     Mission accomplished in ingenious but rather silent ways, in what is essentially a combination of defiant political statement and rough-around-the-edges film-essay on what it means to film, what makes a film, what can an image mean. Initially, the director attemps to recreate before Mr. Mirtahmasb's camera, as the ultimate make-believe, the film he'd started working on before all his material was confiscated and his sentence was pronounced - the story of a young woman who is locked inside by her own parents to prevent her from enrolling in an arts course in college. But soon Mr. Panahi gives up in frustration, asking "what is the use of filming when you could just tell the story?".

     Mssrs. Panahi and Mirtahmasb (who have both been imprisoned since This Is Not a Film's Cannes 2011 premiere) raise important questions on the role, nature and identity of film, but that doesn't make this an easy watch. Not that it should be - we are not in entertainment territory here; Mr. Panahi's condition is horrible, and there are harrowing moments of emotion leavened by the odd humorous moment (involving either the director's daughter's pet iguana or his uselessness at cooking meals). But there's only so much you can do with watching two film directors think their way out of such a predicament, and the film only really comes alive when other people unexpectedly show up, from the downstairs neighbour with the loud dog to the sympathetic but ambiguous provisional caretaker. This Is Not a Film indeed: just an important statement whose inarguable political dimension ends up taking precedence over its filmic qualities.

An effort (directed, written, photographed, edited) by Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb.
     (World sales, Wide Management.)
     Screened: DocLisboa 2011 advance press screening, São Jorge 1 (Lisbon), October 18th 2011. 


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