In December 2010, renowned Iranian director Jafar Panahi (Offside) was sentenced to six years in prison and banned from making films for 20 years. His crime? Supporting the opposition party during Iran’s highly charged 2009 election. Three months later on the eve of the Iranian New Year, while his wife and children are away delivering gifts, Panahi is home alone in his apartment. He turns on a camera.
What follows is a document of the day-to-day life of a man under house arrest: He spreads jam on bread. He brews tea. He feeds his daughter’s pet iguana. He calls his family. He checks in with his lawyer.
But it also evolves into a provocative meditation on the nature of filmmaking itself: Although he has been barred from directing films, writing screenplays, leaving the country and conducting interviews, Panahi’s sentence says nothing about reading or acting, so this is what he does, explaining what his most recent film would have been about had he been allowed to make it. Like René Magritte’s The Treachery of Images, in which the artist scrawls the words “This is not a pipe” under a painting of just such a smoking device, this is not a film but a representation of one.
Panahi grows frustrated with the experiment. “If we could tell a film, then why make a film?” he laments to his friend Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, who has arrived to follow him around the apartment with a camera in lieu of the static shots at the start of the day. Panahi pulls out copies of his movies—The Mirror and Crimson Gold and The Circle—demonstrating how when he was filming these, he was directed by his amateur actors and the set itself. He returns to acting out his unmade script, about a young woman whose conservative parents lock her in her bedroom. The parallels between filmmaker and character are uncanny.
Meanwhile, outside, a nervous energy gathers in the streets as fireworks boom like bombs and armed officers patrol the neighborhoods. Over and over, Panahi’s friends and family tell him, “Don’t get worried,” which suggests they know that he will, and likely with reason.
By the time Mirtahmasb excuses himself—he’s clearly anxious about his family as the activity escalates outside—the two men are filming each other, Panahi on his iPhone, Mirtahmasb on a modest DV camera. Panahi can’t help himself. “I got bored. I’m taking a film.” His friend gone, he turns his lens on the young man who has arrived to collect his trash. This Is Not a Film is a snapshot of a filmmaker in exile, yes, but also a poignant portrait of a country under a repressive regime and a compelling manifesto on the perseverance of art.
Directors: Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb
Release Date: Feb. 29, 2012