Saturday, March 31, 2012

This is Not A Film (Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Jafar Panahi, 2010)

Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, known for his cinematic contributions like The Mirror (1997), The Circle (2000), and Crimson Gold (2003), is under house arrest in Tehran. By making recalcitrant comments in his films about the suppressive Iranian regime and draconian laws imposed upon the society by the government, Panahi has long irked the government. Ultimately in 2010 the government handed him a sentence of six years in jail and banned from directing movies, writing screenplays, giving interviews to the media, and leaving the country for 20 years. He has appealed against this sentence ever since, and This is Not a Film, shot in his Tehran apartment, is an act of defiance by Panahi amid all this. The film can be categorized as a documentary in which Panahi self-documents a day of his captive life, assisted by Mojtaba Mirtahmasb in camera. The film in general shows a parade of some routine activities (having breakfast, talking to his lawyer, standing and smoking in the balcony, drinking tea, etc.) and some not-so-routine activities for an acclaimed director (taking care of his daughter's pet, an Iguana, getting the door for home-delivery food, and most ridiculously taking care of a neighbor's wayward dog, etc.) performed by Panahi. Some of these activities underscore, in a jocular fashion, what life has come to be for a world-renowned artist under house arrest. Panahi also regularly converses with Mirtahmasb about the sentence, and a few times jokes about his inability to control his innate habits like pronouncing "cut" after an imagined scene despite the government imposed restrictions on him. This is not the first attempt in history to stifle creative expressions of an artist. But artists are the most indefatigable types and creativity is unmindful of external limitations. What is clever about This is Not a Film is that Panahi abides by (almost) all the government bans imposed on him and at the same time successfully communicates his inner feelings by drawing upon images from his previous films. Specifically, Panahi dilutes the line between the cinema and the reality (which is the soul of This is Not a Film) and expresses his rebellious attitude toward the oppressors by playing a scene from The Mirror (1997) in which a child actor rebels against the director and removes a cast she's wearing on her arm; Panahi reveals his anguish by playing a scene from Crimson Gold (2003) in which a troubled war veteran working as a pizza delivery man who is driven into a suicidal crime by social tyranny. In another instance, Panahi uses a scene from The Circle (2000) to corroborate his assertion that sometimes in a film "location" (read house arrest) is more successful at establishing the inner states of mind of an oppressed character than the character merely "acting it out". In The Circle (2000), in one of the most memorable scenes one of the oppressed women released from jail into a Kafkaesque city races to avoid an arrest by the state police against a backdrop of steely vertical frames that befittingly seize the mood of the scene, that is, impending imprisonment of individual freedom. Panahi is also seen to be enveloped by a feeling of despair when Panahi discusses the film that he wanted to make but the censors rejected and thus Panahi never made that film. It is about the life of a teenage girl confined to her home in Isfahan by a dominating parent. She's a prisoner as Panahi is now, and he creates her apartment with pieces of tape on the living-room carpet. But after few unprofitable attempts, Panahi looks at the camera and tells that films are not meant to be "told", rather meant to be "made", essentially establishing a strict boundary between cinema and what is not cinema. In another brilliant use of his fertile imagination, Panahi continually uses the over-curios pet Iguana and its creepy and silent movements around the apartment to draw a striking analogy between the overtly encroaching nature of Iranian state laws into the private lives of Iranian people. The film ends with scenes where Panahi assumes the dual role of a cameraman and a character and engages in amusing conversations with a university student of art whose part-time job is to collect trash in the apartment building. The final scene ends with an apocalyptic vision of the outside world. At the end of the day This is Not a Film may not score high in terms of its pure cinematic contributions. Its success, however, lies in its remarkable ability to depict the life of an imprisoned artist by weaving together scenes from the reality and scenes from the cinema and thereby providing an all-inclusive view of the private moments of a captive but unflagging artist. In the long run This is Not a Film will rise as a testament to an artist's self-documentation of life under lock and key.

No comments:

Post a Comment