In a country with a rich heritage of great cinema, Jafar Panahi (“The White Ballon“) is one of Iran’s most respected filmmakers. At least he was until the government banned him from making movies.
Like any good artist, he immediately set about finding a way to legally subvert the edict, parsing its words like a lawyer so that he could go back to work…without getting thrown back in jail.
The result is “This is Not a Film,” which was smuggled into France for the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year.
I don’t want to romanticize oppression, but the harder regimes squeeze, the more clever the art that seems to result. As with a lot of art created under duress, Panahi does so much with so little, saying so much while saying almost nothing…it’s all in the subtext. Watching him try to figure out what to do to make a movie that’s not a movie, his little home-made act of defiance and bravery, shot in his Tehran apartment, manages to be more than just a condemnation of tyranny, it’s about movie making and the creative process itself.
It’s also very entertaining, with the surrealism of his situation being mirrored in cameos by his daughter’s pet iguana and a very insistent offscreen neighbor trying to foist her yappy little dog off on anyone who’ll take him for a few hours. They may have taken away Panahi’s director’s chair, but he certainly hasn’t lost his sense of the humor.
“This is Not a Film” is short-listed for the Best Documentary Oscar this year, but frankly, it’s in a category all its own – best non-filmmaking. It had short Oscar-qualifying run but they haven’t announced a wide release date yet; but I hope to include it as part of Matt’s Movies when they do.