Originally Reviewed – 90%
What would it feel like to be forbidden.
It’s a strange word isn’t it. Forbidden. The first image that brings up for me is one of a barrier, sometimes tangible, sometimes not, that prevents us from doing something or going somewhere. A wall, usually imposed by somebody else, that forbids entry or restricts access. Now imagine if that word was applied to you. Think for a minute if you were forbidden to watch a certain movie, listen to a piece of music or even leave your home. Forbidden to do what you love. In that context, the term takes on a whole new meaning, one of personal restriction and censorship. Famed Iranian film director Jafar Panahi has been slapped with that very word, forbidden by his government to talk to the media, write screenplays or direct films for the next twenty years. Trapped in his home for months on end, awaiting the beginning of a trial that could mean a six year prison term, Panahi doesn’t rebel, doesn’t make a fuss. He simply does what he was born to do.
Luckily for Pahani and his defense attorney, this is not a film. It’s a 70 minute series of scenes and shots that track one day in his long term interment. During this day, he eats breakfast, chats with his lawyer and documents the drudgeries of his daily life. Throughout the piece, Pahani is an exceptionally sympathetic character. At first content with the camera simply on and pointing, he slowly starts to tell us about his theories of filmmaking and his vision for a film he likely will never make. The piece is one giant metaphor, giving us a chance to watch a trapped artist naturally reach out with the only tools he has. The effect is fascinating and at times breathtaking, especially during the heart stopping final shot.
But the result is not a film. Even when Panahi makes a clandestine call to a cinematographer friend of his to stop by with a camera, the meaning is not to make a documentary. The purpose is just natural, to shoot because he’s meant to. The beauty of the piece is not in the completed product. Panahi says time and time again that what they are doing isn’t filmmaking. It’s more than that. The intrigue of the project is not in the shot design, camerawork or even story. It’s an act of artistic revolution that we get to not only watch, but feel a part of. But this isn’t the kind of revolt that’s loud or even intentional. This is a personal upheaval, the product of a gifted artist rising against the cynicism and oppression of his government. And we get to watch his defiance grow.
While the piece isn’t perfect, it’s hard to critique because it’s not a film. The beginning runs slow, there are long shots of nothing going on and the film feels bloated, even at its abbreviated running time. But all that matters little. This Is Not A Film may not be cinema but it’s certainly something more. Combining shots from an iPhone, an adorable iguana and a filmmaker who just wants to film, the piece is a grand statement of stunning quiet, the type of silence your teacher used when she wanted you to shut up in English class and just pay attention. An artistic expression that rises above the simplicity of its shots, This Is Not A Film is a worthy watch for anybody who believes in freedom, art and the notion that sometimes, you have to do what you’re born to do. And even though Panahi had to smuggle this movie into Cannes on a Flash drive embedded in a birthday cake, he shouldn’t have much to worry about. This really isn’t a film. It’s an unintentional middle finger to those who would jail him for the rest of his life if it were one.
Score – 90%