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This is Not a Film is a day-in-the-life documentary of Jafar Panahi's experience of being under house arrest, filmed almost entirely inside his apartment in Tehran, as he creatively expresses his frustration of not being allowed to do what comes so naturally to this passionate writer and filmmaker: make films. Panahi, the Iranian writer/director of internationally acclaimed films such as The White Balloon, The Circle and Offside, is under house arrest and sentenced to a 20 year ban on making films, leaving Iran and talking to the media. This is Not a Film was smuggled from Iran to France on a USB drive inside a cake.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A large iguana in Jafar Panahi's luxury high rise apartment in Tehran which waddles around and eats from his hand is symbolic of this film's strangeness. It is also symbolic, perhaps unwittingly, of the filmmaker's house arrest, a situation which makes him a prisoner in comfort. But the prison is not the physical one, as the iguana will tell you: it's the deprivation of his natural habitat which hurts the most, both iguana and filmmaker.

Panahi's filmmaking 'brother' Mojtaba Mirtahmasb drives the camera, but Panahi drives the content. His frustration with Iran's authoritarian drivel that has forbidden him to make films, give interviews and write screenplays has led him to subvert the restrictions by reading his screenplay and having Mirtahmasb film him. A creative solution, and one which allows Panahi to reveal his emotional state while condemning his oppressive regime. Ironically enough, the film was smauggled out of Iran on a USB inside a cake for the world to see. So he got to make a film and get it distributed. He has his cake and is eating it, too. Finger to Iran's idiot rulers.

It's not a film for the multiplexes, especially the inauspicious beginning when a locked off camera sees Panahi eat his breakfast. But if you care to look behind the obvious, there is plenty of information to glean, not least that Pahani is determined to thwart his country's morally bankrupt authorities. (I hope this opinion doesn't lead to even more repressions against him.)

Fully equipped with an iPhone and Apple Mac, a large ice-making fridge and other modern gadgets, his apartment also boasts works or art and classy furniture. How oddly this might strike us, when our mental picture of oppressed Iranian filmmakers is so primitive. But the effect of these images is to shift our view of Pahani from being a starving, oppressed artist in a third world country to one of a middle class professional deprived of his rights. It's a big political shift.

In between him 'talking' his film for us, he conducts his daily life, talking to his lawyer and supporters on his iPhone. The banal clashes with the profound when a neighbour asks him to mind her yapping little runt of a dog, while the TV is showing the devastation of the Japanese tsunami while Panahi is himself a victim of a political tidal wave that has and is devastating Iran.

But whether a famous filmmaker or an average Iranian citizen, this glimpse behind the Iran curtain is fascinating for its candour and simplicity. As it tapers off, Pahani becomes an opportunist, interviewing a young man doing part time work collecting trash in his spare time in the apartment block as they ride the lift downstairs, while outside, it's fireworks night. It's footage that just doesn't belong here and drags the film into a cinematic void.

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(Iran, 2011)

In film nist

CAST: Documentary featuring jafar Panahi

PRODUCER: Jafar Panahi

DIRECTOR: Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb

SCRIPT: Jafar Panahi

EDITOR: Jafar Panahi

RUNNING TIME: 75 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 10, 2011

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