When is a film not a film? When is a director not a director? Well, This Is Not A Film answers those questions. Ostensibly a documentary looking at the unfortunate situation that director Jafar Panahi has found himself in (under house arrest, awaiting a decision regarding a potential prison sentence and lengthy ban from any film-making activities), the film manages to turn into something else entirely. It moves from a look at the perils of film-making in Iran to the ever-changing nature of the filming process, before transforming once more into a unique character study, one made all the more intriguing simply by where Panahi puts himself in relation to the camera.
Although he tries, admirably, to keep control of the situation, it soon becomes clear that director Mojtaba Mirtahmasb (filming this portrait of Panahi) will have to cede to the will of his subject. Panahi is simply too full of ideas and passion, and far too used to being the director, to let himself be constantly positioned and controlled. And it is Panahi’s drive to somehow share the story of an unmade film that provides a number of key elements explored in the middle section. Enacting a screenplay that he has been forbidden to film, he starts to create a makeshift set, explains various shots, and also voices the main characters. It soon becomes clear that banning certain films because of their narrative content can feel pointless, and even absurd, when that same story can be shared in different ways. When the film is being banned because of the ideas contained within it then that does nothing to stop the potential spread of those same ideas between like-minded individuals.
It’s also interesting to note that, despite not being behind the camera for sections of the movie, Panahi always feels like he IS the director. He explains how actors can naturally end up directing scenes, how the environment can shape movement/scenes, and how the story can end up taking new and unexpected directions without ever really changing the focus. The fact that he explains this while it is also perfectly illustrated to viewers by the very documentary that is supposed to be about him is wonderfully meta.
An enjoyable exercise at times, and with one or two moments that look at particular scenes from Panahi’s previous film, this also never plays down the very serious consequences facing its subject. Which is why this film is not a film. Even though it is. And this director is not a director. Even though he is. He can’t seem to be anything else.
DIRECTOR: MOJTABA MIRTAHMASB, JAFAR PANAHI
WRITER: JAFAR PANAHI
STARS: JAFAR PANAHI
RUNTIME: 75 MINS APPROX
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