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This Is Not A Film
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by Peter Sobczynski

"This One Takes The Cake"
5 stars

In some cases, it is difficult to separate a finished film from the circumstances under which it was created. In most cases, this usually means that there was presumably some kind of strife involving the actors, the budget, the production/post-production or some combination of those elements. In the case of "This is Not a Film," it is impossible to separate the end result from the circumstances surrounding it because it is because of those very circumstances that it exists in the first place. This is. . .well, I guess it cannot be called a "film" by any conventional standard but whatever it is, it is both a fascinating work of its own and a stirring testimonial by a man who is compelled to tell his stories in his way even when his very freedom is threatened by doing so.

That man is Jafar Panahi, an Iranian filmmaker who has won acclaim throughout the world for such films as "The White Balloon," "The Circle" and "Crimson Gold." Although Panahi's films have never been overtly political by any means, they have been read by some as symbolic commentaries of his country and its fundamentalist leadership. Between that and his support for those protesting against the questionable re-election of Iranian president Mahmoud Amadinejad, he soon found himself arrested for creating anti-Islamic propaganda and in December of 2010, he was sentenced to six years in prison and a 20-year ban from writing, directing or producing any movies at all. While waiting to hear about his potential appeal (which his lawyer admits will almost certain not overturn the verdict, though a "discount" of his sentence is possible) and with his family gone to visit relatives and celebrate the Persian New Year, he begins, in an act of low-key defiance, to film himself as putters around his apartment, fields phone calls and feeds his daughter's pet iguana.

Eventually he contacts fellow filmmaker Mojtaba Mirtahmasb and invites him over with a proposal to film him as he acts out portions of the screenplay that eventually led to his arrest (in which a young woman is locked alone in her family's house to prevent her from registering for the school that has accepted her), analyzes key scenes from his own films and contemplates his own future. This may not sound particularly exciting on the surface--it literally is a home movie through and through--but as it goes on, it slowly and inexorably begins to develop a genuine sense of power. Although there are times when the quiet and self-effacing Panhai admits that he isn't sure what he is trying to accomplish and frequently contemplates abandoning the whole thing, the film feels as thoughtful and accomplished as anything that a moviegoer could possibly hope for and concludes with a final image that, whether accidental or planned, is as moving and dramatic as one could possibly hope to see.

What happened to "This is Not a Film" after its production is just as extraordinary as anything seen on the screen. Although Panhai took great care to ensure that he could not be accused of "directing"--he never says "cut" or "action" and claims throughout that he is only acting, an activity that was not covered under the ban--its discovery could have led to additional penalties for him. As a result, the entire project was transferred onto a tiny USB flash drive, smuggled out of Iran inside of a birthday cake and taken to France, where it premiered at last year's Cannes Film Festival (where he was originally scheduled to serve on the main jury until he was forbidden to leave the country) to great acclaim. Because of the controversial nature of its creation, there may be some suspicion that critics praising it are doing so just in support of Panhai and not because of the quality of the work. Granted, it may not be what one might normally describe as a "film"--and not just as a way to skirt around Iranian law--but whatever it is that one might call it, "This is Not a Film" is an absolute must-see.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=22816&reviewer=389
originally posted: 04/12/12 17:36:10
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 New York Film Festival For more in the 2011 New York Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/01/12 PAUL SHORTT BRAVE, PROVOCATIVE AND THOROUGHLY COMPELLING 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  29-Feb-2012 (NR)
  DVD: 12-Mar-2013

UK
  N/A

Australia
  29-Feb-2012
  DVD: 12-Mar-2013


Directed by
  Jafar Panahi
  Mojtaba Mirtahmasb

Written by
  Jafar Panahi

Cast
  (documentary)



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