Film Review – This is Not a Film


Title: This Is Not A Film

Director: Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Jafar Panahi

Starring: Jafar Panahi

Release Date: 30 March 2012

This Is Not A Film is a documentary about Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who was placed under house arrest to await the verdict of an appeal against a six-year prison sentence and a twenty-year ban on filmmaking. Fearing this to be the end of his artistic career, Panahi, with the help of his friend Mojitaba Mirtahmasb, attempt to document his incarceration as well as the film he had hoped to make before the verdict is reached.

Filmed using a camera that was smuggled in and even partially shot on an iPhone, This Is Not A Film is in many ways what the title might suggest. It is a portrait of beautifully cobbled together segments of Panahi’s home life and the frustration of a repressed artist. The film, while quite harrowing at times, strikes a perfect balance between lightheartedness and the much darker stresses of creative imprisonment. It achieves this masterfully, creating a production that is thought-provoking, rebellious and documents a sadly contemporary threat to free speech in Iran, while also highlighting the persistence and resilience of the creative soul and human voice.

Panahi himself is, for the most part, the only character that appears onscreen, and captures the audience’s attention effortlessly with his passion, defiance and amiability. The audience believes that film is the language he speaks and his obsessive need to film and document even the most trivial events in his life proves this, while still remaining compelling. We can see his passion for the project constantly waver as he wishes to have his last howl of disobedience and pass on the film he wishes to make. We also share in his despair at not being able to see his message in the way he wants. The film examines the spirit and soul of film, and the mind and life of its creator, who even tries to make sense of his ‘performance’ in the documentary to form something as real and moving as he possibly can.

It is a love letter to the medium of film, a protest to the forces of oppression, and a piece that while also being about censorship, manages to examine the creative process and even the unpredictability of coincidence while reflecting on the random events which go into creating a film. It becomes something extraordinary despite its limitations and confines.

In a Nutshell: It’s hard to fault a film that was partially shot on an iPhone while imprisoned in a house and smuggled out to its public in a cake.