To say that Iranian filmmakers Mojtaba Mirtahmasb and Jafar Panahi’s newest “documentary,” “This is Not a Film,” is strictly the contrived ravings of Panahi’s politically-agitating mind is to grossly miss the point of this potent little non-film. Panahi’s artistic statement about truth in cinema, and life, is more a poetic/philosophical homage to neo-realists like Jean-Luc Goddard (“Breathless”), and Andrei Tarkovsky (“Mirror”)— with the shadowy interplay of Alfred Hitchcock (“The Lodger”). And even with the breath of these long departed ghosts, Panahi has penned and enacted something just a bit more unique— and a shade more alarming.
On the surface, “This is Not a Film” features Panahi, and his daughter’s pet Iguana, Iggy, enacting the screenplay of Panahi’s latest movie project. Naturally, the screenplay is denounced by the Iranian government as Revolutionary propaganda— and like so many of Panahi’s projects, will most likely never reach fruition in Panahi’s country. To make matters worse, Panahi— under house arrest— is speaking via speakerphone to his attorney as he awaits the verdict on his appeal. As it presently stands, Panahi will be jailed for 6-years and will be banned from filmmaking, and departing his country, for 20 years. The best he can hope for, according to his lawyer, is slightly less time in prison, if the internal and world reactions are strong enough.
“This is Not a Film,” is simultaneously shot on a prosumer-grade videocam and Panahi’s cellphone camera. The finished product is strategically hidden, via USB stick, in a cake sent to France. From there it arrives, in the nick of time, at the Cannes Film Festival, where it is shortlisted for the 2013 Oscars. Hmmm…
What’s interesting about Panahi’s enacted response to his lawyer is that he doesn’t seem the least bit upset. In fact his impassivity about his demise is downright inhuman. This measure of Panahi’s control (a filmmaker’s control?), is what seems to be Panahi’s true artistic statement. Can a filmmaker, or any human, really control his artistic or world environment? Apparently not any more than Panahi can control his young actress, Mina, in his earlier politically acceptable film, “The Mirror.”
“This is Not a Film” is definitely the most brilliant work of non-cinematic genius of 2012. See it any way you possibly can. It will change your life forever.