As guns go off and police sirens scream out in what is slowly becoming the ever encroaching distance, an emotional Jafar Panahi tears up bright yellow tape from a rug strewn across his living room, accounting for a makeshift set for a reading of the screenplay that has caused the auteur to be trapped within the walls of this home.
With a six year jail sentence and a 20 year ban from directing films, writing screenplays or even giving interviews, Jafar Panahi becomes the co-director and focus of what is now an Oscar-shortlisted ‘documentary’ entitled This Is Not A Film. And while finding the right word to exactly describe this picture may be tough, this brutally honest meditation on a man with a deep seeded compulsion to create is going to be remembered as one of the greatest films of this still very young decade.
Co-directed by Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, This Is Not A Film finds its center, beloved Iranian auteur Jafar Panahi, trapped within the home in which he has been confined to by his native government. After being accused of creating ‘propaganda against the regime,’ Panahi as well as his wife, daughter and 15 other friends were arrested in March of 2010, with Panahi still going through appeals to cut back his unconscionable and criminally over the top prison sentence and artistic ban. However, as the consummate artist that he is, he tasks Mirtahmasb with shooting his daily routine, culminating in various set pieces, the most poignant of which is a performance of parts of the screenplay that ultimately started this series of events.
‘Don’t cut,’ proclaims co-director Mirtahmasb during one of the film’s most poignant moments, and in this simple, two word statement, the film’s entire thesis comes alive. As an artist, Panahi is physically incapable of calming his compulsion to create. Doubt settles in throughout the film, as does a deeply affecting sense of sadness, what with Panahi’s prison sentence and ban playing as the ultimate black cloud hanging over this film’s head, but Panahi is completely unable of controlling his urge to create. Be it the entire idea behind shooting this document, or the beautifully melancholy sequence involving Panahi reading from his script, this is a beautifully crafted portrait of a man who, no matter his setting (be it inside a home or surrounded by a world of pure chaos), must create or cease to exist.
But one can’t help but be moved by the fact that this film exists, even conceptually. A filmmaker like Panahi has no reason being forced into house arrest, but due to a controlling regime afraid of free expression, the legendary foreign auteur is forced to give us one of the most arresting and utterly heartbreaking works of art that we’ve seen in years. Shot using prosumer cameras and even featuring Panahi talking about a few of his past works, this is a must see film for anyone with a love for film or, hell, even just a heartbeat. With glimmers of joy in the creation of a seemingly ‘lost’ film within his own home, This Is Not A Film may be a tough cookie to try and describe, but it’s a feature piece of art that is both a brilliant piece of work and also a call to arms for a world that can truly change history. Throughout the film, it’s proclaimed that international voices could effect the result of this sentence, and hopefully, with this film and its inclusion on the Oscar documentary short list, that international voice can finally be heard.
Culminating in one of the most dramatic endings in any film in recent memory, This Is Not A Film is simply the greatest and most important piece of art that the film world has seen formed in years, arguably the last decade.