This Is Not a Film
It is fairly difficult to write about a film that proclaims itself not to be, and that deemphasises so many of the elements one would normally assess. There is no soundtrack, no particular emphasis on cinematography, no interesting casting choices, no intentional costume design, no script, and it is incredibly refreshing.
Through the means of an iPhone and camera, This Is Not a Film tracks a day in the life of Jafar Panahi, an Iranian filmmaker awaiting his appealed sentence. At the time, he was under house arrest for having supported the opposition party, and was sentenced to six years in prison and a twenty-year ban on film-making and foreign interviews. This documentary of sorts cleverly loopholes these restrictions as he is shown talking to his lawyer, neighbours and describing his rejected screenplay, not directing but presenting the reality of his situation, and through that addressing the issues that caused it to arise. Leaving the audience to piece together the context, Panahi is captivating in his honesty and calmth, in being able to conjure an entire world of setting and situation through revealing the limitations he has been constrained by.
This Is Not a Film comes together beautifully with the correlations between Panahi and his screenplay, in which a girl is banned from going to university by her conservative parents, and is locked in a house. This unrealised film within a film, conveyed on his carpet partitioned off with yellow tape adds a further layer of incomplete stories told, as Panahi selects moments from his screenplay, tantalising the audience’s curiosity with fragmented narration, in much the same way the closing sequence of the student-cum-concierge does so humorously. This student, who comes to collect the rubbish, the neighbour with the noisy dog and the specificity of the filming day being a national one of celebration instils a lovely sense of locality about the film. This makes its serious message on state censorship all the more affecting due to its personal feel.
Often the cinema tends to be a voyeuristic or escapist experience, and This Is Not a Film seems to harness both these elements to convey what is going so wrong in some film industries. The audience is provided with a Big-Brother-esque awareness of privacy being both voluntarily and unconsciously intruded upon (the neighbours provide some comic relief in this area), presented with Panahi’s own longing to escape back into stories that aren’t actuality. And this hits home. This may not be a film, but it is definitely worth a watch.