AFI Film Festival 2011: This Is Not a Film
Billed as "an effort by Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb," this 75-minute video diary documents a day in the life of Iranian filmmaker Panahi (Offside), who is under house arrest in Tehran and has been banned from filmmaking. Mirtahmasb films Panahi's daily activities, both the mundane and the borderline seditious. There's dry and unexpected humor throughout. When Panahi, from in front of the camera, asks Mirtahmasb to "cut," the cameraman refuses: "You are not directing. It's an offense."
Panahi shows Mirtahmasb excerpts from his own films, which powerfully demonstrate how his ability to adapt to life happening in front of the lens has defined his artistry, and for a while Panahi seems to be treating his predicament as just another unexpected twist to navigate. At first excited to explain and block out the story of a film he had planned to make before his arrest, eventually Panahi's enthusiasm wanes. "If we could tell a film," he frets, "why make a film?"
"Why make a film?" is one question that haunts This Is Not a Film, a title functioning as ironic declaration, sincere defense and clear-eyed provocation. Being that Panahi has been specifically banned from "filmmaking," "What is film?" and "What is making?" bubble to the surface, too. What's most striking considering the severity of Panahi's situation is the playfulness he applies to these inquiries. This Is Not a Film is not technically a film — it's fully digitally sourced — but it's breathtakingly cinematic, a cannily crafted vérité crackling with immediacy. As much as it's a political statement, an act of defiance, a master class in one auteur's body of work and process and a document of a life oppressed, it's also, maybe most miraculously, a never-a-dull-moment entertainment.
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