I really wanted to watch this film since I heard about it and I am so glad to have finally caught it.
When the film ended, I thought about proclaiming Panahi as a genius philosopher but I realized the best description and the most fitting would be: a film-maker. I know it sounds rather obvious but I chose this description in particular because he hits all the right notes. To me, a film-maker is one whose films are accessible but incredibly deep. There are many film-makers whose films have depth but are not accessible (high modernist art) or vice-versa. Panahi, on the other hand, is capable of reaching out to masses through film and at the same time, explores film not just as an art, a medium, a pen, a story but also as a catalyst. This is Not a Film (2011) is a sharp critic of the Iranian government but also discusses the age old question of “What is a film?”
Right off the bat, when Panahi explained that he hopes to “create an image” by explaining and reading the banned screenplay. Immediately, my mind jumped to the debate about film being the edit or the shot. In forming an image, he refers to the edit. The space between the cuts where the audience’s image of the film materialises. Later on, he goes on about the importance of the shot: the unprofessional actors or the mise-en-scene. The idea behind how This is Not a Film (2011) is a great one because the audience got a glimpse of what goes on in a director’s head and see the vision he has. Also, the film explores the role of a director and touch on the idea of an auteur as he talk about the shot, the frame and the edit. The film could even be analyzed using the Frankfurt School of thoughts that is concerned with the production of films. There were just so many film theory gold mines that I find myself struggling to remember the flashes of connection and epiphanies made throughout the viewing of the film. Personally, it was amusing that Panahi could not give up his Italian neorealist filming style in including seemingly unimportant and redundant scenes, including those of his Iguana.
We even got to see what he what he was trying to illustrate with his other films about unprofessional actors bring in something unpredictable when he bumped into his neighbour’s younger brother by chance – who just so happen to be a photogenic art masters student doing all sorts of side-jobs with a humorous and amiable character. His presence on the screen, lit up the film with its unpredictability and novelty. This random guy turned out to a complete jem who pushed Panahi to break his film-making ban in pursuit of a potential film content. I mean, what are the odds?? He had so many interesting stories to tell thanks to his varied life experience and was so close to the subject matter that left me wondering if he was one of Panahi’s unprofessional actors. The random young man touched on a sore point of not being able to find a job despite having a masters, particularly in the Arts area. He often does jobs not related to Arts due to the inconsistent the salary pay. Through this young man, we are given a grim glimpse of Iran’s Arts scene future. From Panahi’s film-making ban, prison term and the invasive censorship across Iran from television, internet and cinema, it is not difficult to see just why Iran’s Arts might not flourish within their own country.
Towards the end of the film, Panahi asked if this (what they were filming) could really be a film and can a film be if shot from an iphone. Speaking as a documentary film-maker, Mirstahmasb, very wisely, maintained that nothing matters except for the camera to remain switched on for it to continuously record everything. One could learn so much about Iran from the film. The film showed the audience the grief, frustration and helplessness of film-maker is banned from his trade. Even though Panahi was not allowed to make films, consciously or not, there were several times when he was filming videos. It was almost an occupational hazard for him. Panahi, who have a great love for film-making, was so repressed by his fear of what would happen yet so desperate to tell the stories he conceived and to make a stand.
His screenplay parallels his own situation: the girl who was locked up in her room and prevented from going to her Arts university. When he acted out her ennui and her frustration in the room (the confined space on his rug), it was as if he was telling his story. The dark moment of the screenplay when she was contemplating suicide and her phone (with no one is on the other line) rang seemed almost too similar to the repression, frustration and helplessness that Panahi feels. Even Panahi himself, paused. At that point, he gave up explaining the scene with a despaired exclamation: “If we could tell a film, then why make a film?”
The final scene of the film gives us a glimpse of “Fireworks Wednesday” that took place despite it being explicitly banned. This “Fireworks Wednesday” celebration mirrors This is Not a Film (2011) in its anti-government and protests against the suppression of expression. The gate that stops Panahi from joining the celebration parallels the ban that was aimed at suppressing him and his attempt in stirring the Iranians to rise up against Iranian government. Despite the gate and ban, Iran is still protesting and the efforts of the government are futile. It is this final scene that one is given hope; perhaps, all is not lost for the Iranians.