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A window into the oppressive state of a nation, as documented by Iranian film maker.
on 21 September 2012
Covering a day in the life of a man awaiting verdict from the Appeals court in Iran comes a documentary with a very specific purpose; to showcase the suffocating force exerted by the Iranian government on the artistic community.
Film-maker Jafar Panahi is under house arrest. His crime? "Propaganda against the regime". Sounding positively Orwellian, his sentence is 6 years in prison, a 20 year ban on making films and a 20 year ban on leaving the country. Understandably, he is frustrated, worried and angry with, and at, the political system. Being forbidden to make the film he planned on making, he uses the time in his apartment to lay out the bare bones of his latest screenplay.
This documentary film, it is important to note, is not constructed under a conventional arc. It is openly improvised. You see a man unsure where to steer the piece as it moves along. He is uncertain if anyone will ever set their eyes on what he is filming, and the lack of certainty hangs over the documentary like an ominous invisible cloud. However, amongst all of this are some surreal moments. There is frequent footage of his pet iguana and his escapades within the confines of the apartment. This footage allows for some light to creep in amongst the varying shades of sombre. Generally speaking, this is an exercise in seeing a film maker stripped of the fourth wall, and in its place, an ordinary person performing creatively within their own four walls. Ironically, the most dramatic aspect of the film is one that does not form part of what we see, and is not even added as a post-script; the film had to be smuggled out of Iran on a memory card that was hidden inside a cake.
Thanks to the surreptitious nature of the film's construction and export, This Is Not A Film could not be any more accurate to its title. It is the epitome of a document that is oxymoronic; the film has a very specific purpose and reason to exist, yet it also plays out with no narrative sense of purpose in any conventional sense.
Arguably, the most compelling facet of the documentary is in the understanding of the context in which it was made.
Criticism of this film is hard to level, hence the non-rating that heads this review. Bizarrely, despite containing no linear narrative, no talking heads and no interviews, it still stands as a fascinating window peek into a government that is terrifying, petrifying, anaesthetising and nullifying the proletariat. There is no fancy camera work, and the lack of focus means that it would be hard to recommend this film as being one for repeat viewings.
Yet still, it is something that needs to be seen. In fact, it commands to be seen. It is a brave feat and endeavour. It is engrossing because the viewer is left to marvel at how it made its way to our screens at all. It is a contemporaneous note on present day Iran and a call to the wider world. A cry for freedom and the purity of free expression. It highlights the extent to which civil liberties have been robbed and denied from the creative industries by the state. The real victim is freedom of speech. Freedom of expression. It is a news bulletin without filter.
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