Monday, March 26, 2012

This Is Not a Film

The history of Iranian cinema is a narrative caught between censorship and poetry. Since the inception of the medium, film practitioners have been subject to exile, censure, imprisonment and execution. Jafar Panahi is, rather depressingly, the latest in a long line of cinematic martyrs.

And yet despite these pressures, Iranian filmmakers have managed to make sublime works of personal art with universal resonance. This Is Not a Film (opening this Friday, March 30th, exclusively at the IFI) continues this trend. It sets itself as a passionate cry against what the poet and writer Gholam Hossein Saedi calls the desire “of the state to control the peoples’ daily existence and routines but also...the way each of them thinks, even in their moments of privacy.”

In this, Panahi’s last film before the silence of his prison sentence descends, he has used cinema as a means of projecting a freedom of the mind that allows him to question and surpass the terms of his oppressors. He shows the absurdity and futility of planning projects never to made, the frustration of attempting to talk a film into existence, all as passionate acts of the imagination. In doing so he exhibits a controlled anger in the face of the cruelty of a system that is inhuman and dehumanising. This cruelty and the filmmaker’s response to it is laid bare in one of the most mesmerising and heartbreaking scenes in cinema. Stepping outside the confines of his apartment, Panahi and his camera take an elevator ride with a young student who is collecting garbage from each floor of the apartment building. A long extended take, it serves as treatise on storytelling (how to tell a story, what constitutes a story, why tell a story), the insatiable drive of the camera and filmmaker to document, record, and chronicle the intertwined politics of the personal and the people, all in the passionate questioning pursuit of the real, of truth.

For Panahi’s cinema is nothing if not concerned with the art and artifice of cinema itself. The constructed nature of his first feature The White Balloon, the obsession with narrative circularity in The Circle and Crimson Gold, the self reflexivity of The Mirror, all attest to this fact. He cannot detach himself from his cinema, is defined by it and finds meaning in the search for meaning. Here it is a sign of inner liberty. His very existence an act of rebellion. A rebellion channelled as a social commitment to freedom, humanity and understanding in the face of oppression and which serves as a bulwark against the fear of indifference. It is an at times an unbearably honest portrait of the artist as both tyrant and victim of tyranny. For in creating there is a poetic brutality, a necessary cruelty from which he never shies away. This Is Not a Film is an astonishing work. It is a film. It is cinema. It is essential.

Eric Egan

This Is Not a Film runs EXCLUSIVELY at the IFI from March 30th - April 5th. For more information and bookings, please contact our Box Office on 01 679 3477, or visit our website

Watch film trailer here:

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