Must See (not a) Movie of the Week: This Is Not a Film

July 15, 2013 5 Comments

628x471Many wanna-be directors are dying to make a movie.  How many would die for the movie they made?

Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi (The Mirror, The White Balloon, Crimson Gold, Offsides) was arrested in 2010  during a shoot of his latests film by the Iranian government, imprisoned for three months and then banned from making films, writing screenplays or conducting interviews for TWENTY YEARS, with a sentence of six additional years in prison.

During his house arrest and awaiting an appeal to his prison sentence, Panahi and co-conspirator Mojtaha Mirtahmasb “filmed”  Panahi as he walks around his fashionable appartment, reflecting on his prior films, conversed with his attorney and constructs a “viewing” of his screenplay, using tape and himself to unfold the story of a young girl’s imprisonment (and of course, his own).  The effect is riveting as we are allowed to share the creative defiance of  director who refuses to comply.

Those familiar with Panahi’s work (the blurring of documentary-representation and scripted events within an “everyday” the magic and meaning are in the small details) will recognize his signature scenes using non-professional actors ( a la Brecht and the Italian neo-realists) and his defiant, unflinching crticism of restriction.  Those unfamiliar should check out his earlier films on Amazon.

Can films impact life?  Does Panahi’s poignantly beautiful film have any chance of changing “real”/not “reel” in Iran?

Fortunately for us, this is only a metaphorically arresting film.  But a MUST SEE one!

Go Igy!

Jolyn Wagner


Must See Movie of the Week
5 Comments to “Must See (not a) Movie of the Week: This Is Not a Film”
  1. Bruce Russell says:

    Is “This is not a film” a film? In the ordinary meaning of “film,” it clearly is. In fact, I think it is clearly a documentary film. Roughly, a film is a series of visual images produced by a device that is capable of recording (e.g., a camera) or producing (to allow for cgi, computer generated images) the appearance of change or movement through those visual images. A film could be very short, even just a few seconds, and need not actually involve change or movement. Spot is a possible film that lasts ten seconds and is of an unchanging spot of light that is created by pointing a motion picture camera at a spot of light projected against a black background. While there is no change or movement in Spot, it is created by a device, the motion picture camera, that has the capacity to record change and movement (unlike a still camera). So, “This is not a film” clearly satisfies the conditions of being a film in the ordinary sense of that term. Perhaps it is not a film in a narrow sense. I think Panahi believed that it was not a film in the sense in which he was prohibited by the Iranian authorities from making a film, that is, it was not a film that he directed based on a screen play he had written after the ban went in place. Nor was the film a film of an interview with him, because he was also banned for twenty years from giving interviews. “This is not a film” is a film in the ordinary sense of the term, but making it was Panahi’s way of showing Iranian authorities that he could still make films even within the severe restrictions they imposed on him. In an interview that accompanies the DVD of “Offside,” Panahi says that all of his films are about the restrictions that one group of people imposes on another. “This is not a film” fits into that same general category. Making a film under the severe restrictions imposed on Panahi is like writing a poem all of whose words must be no more than three letters and where they all must rhyme with “doe”: a very difficult task that tests the artist’s creativity.

    However, under such severe restrictions, what the artist produces may, in itself, be a boring work of art, even if the idea behind its production is ingenious. I think this is true of “This is not a film.” We see Panahi receiving phone calls, making breakfast, talking on the phone, feeding his daughter’s iguana, Igy, etc. Once his filmmaker friend comes over, we see Panahi being filmed as he reads from a script for a film he had previously tried to make but was prevented by the authorities from making. His hope is that by reading and explaining the script, “I might create an image of it. Perhaps the viewer will see the film that wasn’t made.” Panahi moves from the kitchen to the living room because he thinks he will bore the viewer if he just reads the screen play sitting at the table in his kitchen. Despite some creative use of masking tape applied to the carpet in the living room to represent rooms, entry ways, windows, and stairs in the house where the film is to take place, Panahi’s attempt to get us to see the film that was never made fails. In frustration he says, “If we could tell a film, then why make a film?” Of course, you can’t tell a film. The telling of it becomes boring, whether at the kitchen table or in the living room with masking tape on the carpet. It becomes obvious that a film is much more than the words in the script that underlies it.

    Panahi fails to get us to “see the film that wasn’t made.” But we do see a film that was made, namely, the film titled, “This is not a film,” a documentary film about a day in the life of Jafar Panahi. He does not come out of the building when the young man collecting trash tells him he shouldn’t because someone might see him with his camera. He is locked in his room like the girl in the script from which he reads. What is to become of Panahi, brave and admirable man that he is? Will he turn into a lizard like Igy, similar to how Gregor Samsa is transformed into a giant bug in Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”? Or will he just be bored to death through living the boring life of phone calls, TV, occasional visits from friends, delivery boys, and trash collectors that we witness on screen? “This is not a film” is a boring film, though it has a point: you can’t make a film by telling a film, though you can make a documentary of telling a film!

  2. jolyn wagner says:

    Is there a difference from declaring that a film is boring and stating that one felt bored by a film? I think so.
    Loretta and Bruce felt bored with good reasons to explain their feeling.
    I felt riveted and very moved by it each time I watched it. Also, I believe with good reason.
    Boredom is an interesting experience but complex.
    Some people even find TENNI$ boring.
    But I digress.

  3. Bruce Russell says:

    There is a difference between something’s being boring (a film, a book, etc.) and being bored by that thing, just as there is a difference between something’s being yellow and its looking yellow. I think something is yellow just in case it produces the same sort of color sensations in people who are not color-blind as lemons and daffodils do when those not color-blind people look at them in normal lighting conditions. However, some people are color-blind and so will not see the color of a yellow wall, and some may have a problem with their color vision and see a white wall as yellow. I’d say a film (book, etc.) is boring if it produces in most people the mental state that most have when watching paint dry, hearing a monotonous story told over and over again, etc. I’m claiming that “This is not a film” has that property whether or not some people like Jolyn are bored by it or not.

    I told some of the people who watched “This is not a film” with me that it reminds me of a film by Andy Warhol that I saw when in grad school. I think it was called “Naked Lunch,” after a William Burrough’s novel. In any case, it consisted of some people having lunch being served by a completely naked waitress. She was nice looking, but she told this very boring story of her life. People got up and left the movie, cursing at Warhol for taking their money. That film WAS boring, but it had a point: even nudity can be boring. I liked it because of that. Someone might like “This is not a film” BECAUSE it is boring. Someone might not be bored by the film (I suspect that if they are not, they are projecting some personal history onto the film). OK to both those possibilities. But the film IS boring.

    You give no reasons for thinking “This is not a film” is NOT boring, Jolyn. So what are they? In my discussion of the film I mentioned the “creative use of masking tape,” but that is not enough to rescue the film from being boring. A few interesting lines from the waitress in “Naked Lunch” were not enough to rescue that film from being boring either. Panahi himself thinks that everyone would be bored if he just read the script while sitting at his kitchen table. I don’t think that moving the reading to the living room and putting down masking tape changes things. And if most people are bored by a film, it’s boring.

  4. Bruce Russell says:

    Did Panahi violate the 20 year prohibition against making a film in “making” “This is not a film”? I’d say that he did insofar as he asked his friend over so he could follow Panahi around in his house. That constitutes directing. Further, he says that the actors in the clips from Crimson Gold and Circle were directing the film. By parallel reasoning, insofar as he was an actor in this film, he was, by his own lights, directing the film.

    In the interview on the Offside DVD, Panahi says that he does not use professional actors because he does not want his audience to think, “Oh, that’s the actor who played so-and-so in such-and-such film.” That would be a distraction. Of course, it’s still possible that the audience mistakenly THINKS that someone who is a non-professional actor appeared in some other film. Recall that in “This is not a film” the young trash collector mistook the cameraman for someone who acted in another film. Panahi laughs at his mistake.

    Also, on the DVD from Offside Panahi says that no actor performs badly. If the acting is bad, the director is responsible for it. He says that the director must sometimes make quick decisions because the non-professional actor might do something unexpected (as the actor does in the clip from Crimson Gold). He gives as an example the young woman from Offside when she tries to enter the soccer stadium. Apparently she asked what she should do after refusing to be searched. I think Panahi told her to run! While it is noble of Panahi to take the blame for bad acting, it’s surely false that he is responsible for all of it. He edits on the spot, not waiting to do that until the film ends, but no matter how much editing, a bad actor might produce noting but bad acting.

  5. Bruce Russell says:

    Quote from my colleague, Larry Powers: I’m interested in boring things, among which is philosophy.

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