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12-13-2012, 05:37 PM
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This Is Not a Film (2011), directed by Jafar Pahani: In 2010, Pahani, the Iranian film director of Mirror (discussed on the "movie of the week" page) and Offside, was sentenced by the state to a six year prison term, still under appeal, and a 20 year ban on writing and directing films, as well as a ban of equal length on leaving the country. He is currently under house arrest and could be whisked away to prison in a heartbeat. In part, his perhaps unwise response to this violation of his human rights was to make this documentary, which depicts a day in his life under house arrest in his very attractive apartment in Tehran. The film is meant to show the severe limitations on his freedom, both personal and artistic, which it does, but he is such a creative artist that the movie is actually continuously interesting and entertaining. There is a cast of characters who almost seem scripted as they fit into the film so well. After a brief fruitless telephone conversation with his lawyer, we first hear from his wife and son who are delivering New Year's presents to friends and family; they give him a call to remind him to make sure he feeds Igi or their daughter will kill them if anything happens to her pet. Igi turns out to be a four foot long iguana who at one point crawls up on the preoccupied Pahani's lap like a kitten before finally settling in precariously on the top of a nearby book shelf. Later a friend comes over to be a cameraman for Pahani, and cautions Jafar not to say "cut," as that's directing, and he mustn't do it. Cleverly acting out the scenes, Pahani reads parts of a script of a movie that he was going to make but was forbidden to continue, and for the only time in the film, his emotions get the best of him. Overcome with feeling, he pauses briefly and eventually says in frustration "If we could tell a film, why would we make a film?" A neighbor with a noisy dog and a young arts student doubling as the building's garbage collector for a few days also figure prominently and humorously.

I felt such conflicting emotions watching this film. The nature and extent of Iran's oppression is amply demonstrated; the nation's ultra-repressive laws seem like a kind of self-inflicted madness. The point that suspicion has become part of life's necessities is subtly made, too. But Pahani's bravery and good humour, and his sheer skill in making such a fine work out of this material, provides my strongest impression. In anyone is an example of the strength of the human spirit under even the most soul-destroying circumstances, it is Pahani.

This Is Not a Film makes a superb companion piece with Bahman Ghobadi's Rhino Season, another film that also uses cinema in an imaginative way to underscore the despicable treatment with which Iran attempts to intimidate and silence its artists.


Best Documentaries of 2012 so far

1) This Is Not a Film, Pahani, Iran
2) Stories We Tell, Polley, Canada
3) Storm Surfers in 3D, McMillan/Nelius, Australia
4) Searching for Sugar Man, Bendjelloul, Sweden/UK
5) Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Gelb, Japan/US
6) Chasing Ice, Orlowski, US
7) The Imposter, Layton, UK
8) The Swell Season, August-Perma/Mirabella-Davis, Ireland

Last edited by kihei: 12-18-2012 at 10:42 PM.
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