The News From Iran (Smuggled Out in a Cake)

Jafar Panahi

The great Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi is subject to arrest at any time, according to the Islamic Republic’s laws,  to begin serving his six-year sentence for “fomenting anti-government propaganda” through his work.  His sui generis masterwork, “This Is Not a Film,” will have its United States theatrical premiere tomorrow, opening at Film Forum for a two-week run.

Here, reblogged from my post, “Indeed It Is,” from October:

Smuggled out of Iran on a USB drive inside a cake, “This Is Not a 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.”

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