This is not a film

THIS IS NOT A FILM. Documentary directed by Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb. 75 minutes. Rated G (General audience).

‘This is not a film’ has to be the title of this home movie from directors, Jafar Panahi Mojtab Mirtahmasb, - because Panahi has been sentenced to six years in jail and forbidden to make a film for twenty years.  An appeal against the sentence has been lost and other avenues to repeal this unjust sentence are being sought.  The international community has been vocal in its support of the director.  His chair as a member of the 2011 Berlin film festival international jury was left vacant during the festival and there was a retrospective of his films.

‘On December 20, 2010, Panahi was sentenced by the Revolutionary Court to six years in prison and barred for the next twenty years from film-making, political activity, traveling or giving interviews. Panahi's colleague Mohammad Rasoulof was also sentenced to six years in prison.’  This information comes from the Internet Movie Database for Jafar Panahi.  The heading is, insensitively, ‘Trivia’.  Even less sensitivie is the rubric which follows this dire information, ‘See more trivia’ which gives information about cinema people protesting his case.

Jafar Panahi is one of the most respected of Iranian directors world wide, his films winning prizes at prestigious festivals (The Circle winning the Golden Lion in Venice in 2000).  His films have been selected for awards by the International Catholic Cinema Organisation, The White Balloon and The Circle.  This reviewer had the pleasure of being with him at a festival in 2007.

Panahi was under house arrest.  What he and his friend, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, did was to use a camera as well as mobile phone to record what a day confined to a house, life within an apartment,  was like.  Clearly, it was more comfortable than being in prison, but it is still a curtailing of freedoms and human rights.  The camera was placed at various points in the bedroom, kitchen and sitting room.  Obviously, there is not going to be much ‘action’ in this kind of film, so the running time has been kept short, 75 minutes.  While watching the director in the morning, beginning his day, having breakfast, we are compelled to identify with him and wonder how we would manage in a similar situation.

When his friend arrives and uses his camera, there is discussion about the situation and what it means personally to Panahi.

There is an interlude where a neighbour comes to insist that Panahi take care of her dog while she is out.  He resists – as we would when we see the spoilt dog.

Just when we think the film might come to an end in the evening, Panahi by himself again, a young man comes to the door.  He is a student with casual jobs whose task is to collect the rubbish from all the apartments in the block.  The director accompanies him from floor to floor – just a little bit of opening up to an outer world even if it is still within the apartment block walls.  The young man chats (and we wonder at times whether he is something of a spy).  It is a sad thing for house arrest when one of the most interesting activities of the day is to go from floor to floor, looking for rubbish, knocking on doors (including that of the lady with the dog who complains that Panahi had not taken it in).

And the climax of the film?  The student and the director arrive at the basement, parking floor.  There is activity in the streets outside.  The young man advises Panahi that it would not be prudent to go any further.  Nothing left to do but to get in the lift and go up again.

And the prospect of the prison sentence...

Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

Sharmill Films

Out November 10, 2011.


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