This Is Not a Film

This Is Not a Film

Postby CAP » Thu Mar 14, 2013 1:35 pm

I thought there was already a review of this on WWR, but maybe it’s been deleted.

Anyway, I finally got around to watching this, more out of curiosity than anything. It’s a 50 minute or so documentary about Iranian film director Jafar Panami, under house arrest in his comfortable penthouse apartment in Teheran in 2011, talking us through a vetoed film script and explaining how he faces a twenty year ban on filmmaking as well as a spell in prison, for another of his projects (presumably for its political implications). Censorship is really oppressive there and demonising Iran is a major Western project, so it’s something we get to hear about a lot, unlike a lot of other places where the west is happy to be part of the oppression. That’s why this otherwise unsellable short is freely available. But that doesn’t make this man’s plight any less deplorable and it’s clear Panami is not some dangerous fanatic or western stooge, just an independent intellectual claiming some modest freedom.

His wife and son are absent on the day/s of filming, an old colleague comes around to operate the camera for most of it. Panami makes and gets various calls throughout, keeping in the loop. His wife calls to remind him to feed ‘Iggy’ his daughter’s pet iguana, which they’re looking after while she is away somewhere. Panami and Iggy are on good terms and the large green lizard lumbers around the apartment fitfully, all but stealing the show. At one point Panami is unable to continue describing his doomed film script because the heroine’s plight begins to resemble his own a little too much and he has to break off and compose himself. This is the first time you really get a feeling of what’s at stake. Iggy waddles over, almost in consolation and for a moment it seems Panami might actually use Iggy as a stand-in for the heroine – an unexpected comic option – but one understandably declined.

The day draws to a close, some sort of banned fireworks festival takes place in the streets, initially sounding like gun shots. There’s sirens; inevitably a police presence. His colleague has to leave and Panami is left to film by himself, finally button-holing a young janitor collecting the garbage for an impromptu interview on his life. At this point Panami is just intent upon being behind a camera, filming anything. It’s probably the most uncomfortable moment in the film. You really sense his desperation. He follows the young man down to the forecourt, as far as he is allowed to stray and is reminded of his limits by the janitor. The film ends looking out through ornate wrought-iron gates at the bonfires and chaos.

It could have come across as pretty self-indulgent, but I take it the point is to persist, to always try and find a loophole, a way around the red tape, no matter how compromised or minor the triumph. Maybe it’s a very Persian attitude, I don’t know enough about the culture. Subsequently Panami has somehow managed to ‘co-direct’ a film recently given a prize at the Berlin Film Festival and that again has ramped up the heat on the guy. Talk about indomitable. I think I’ve only ever seen one of his movies – The Circle. I get Panami confused with Payami – Babek Payami, who I think is based in Canada, probably for political reasons. But they have had an impressive array of film makers, from Kiarostami, the Makmalabafs, Majidi, Raisian, and they do have a very distinctive visual or pictorial style, a real feel for imagery. That comes across in Panami’s description of just the opening shot of his aborted film script – he’s already thinking in very precise terms of shots, not just story or character.

So it’s a shame the state feels the need to impose such a rigid line in stories. But they’re obviously paranoid about being undermined and inevitably make that a self-fulfilling prophecy.
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