Defying his 20-year ban from making films, Iranian director Jafar Panahi’s “This Is Not a Film,” chronicles a day in his life under house arrest, awaiting results of the appeal of his six-year prison sentence for spreading “propaganda against the state.” It was shot with with the help of his friend and colleague, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb (who was one of six filmmakers arrested in Iran last month).
Smuggled out of Iran on a USB drive inside a cake, the film is technically slight. Early scenes are shot with an iphone, later a professional camera is used with available light (which mostly isn’t).
But “an effort by” Jafar Panahi, as it says in the credits, is as stirring as his other films, which include “Offsides,” “Crimson Gold” and “The Circle” (for which I was privileged to shoot images for a poster for the American release). Here, as in his other work, the political is represented in everyday life, in the way people live. And here the quotidian includes discussions of the frustrations of trying to make films under a repressive regime.
Whether “This Is Not a Film” is actually a spontaneous recording of a day’s events and the arrival of the substitute super to remove the trash was just serendipity, is not important. What matters is the way Panahi mines the material to maintain a tension between what Iran could become and its present difficult reality. As Panahi joins the super, a congenial student with serious aspirations, in the elevator, stopping on each floor, the story shifts from the director to the younger man. And when they reach the ground floor and through the gates that enclose Panahi’s building see fires burning which may be part of the celebration of the new year or something more menacing, the student warns Panahi, “Don’t go out there.”
“This Is Not a Film” will be shown tonight, as part of the main slate of the New York Film Festival, at 6:00 pm at Alice Tully Hall. Distributor Palisades Tartan has not yet announced a theatrical release date.