This is not a film Jafar Panahi,
Mojtaba Mirtamash (Iran 2011)
viewed IDFA 21 11 2011
Why is this is not a film….because it’s a life…
All the films I viewed at IDFA were mediated and or
laminated productions. Mediated
through cognitive design as products of
a particular nature, using specific filmic structure shooting schedules and
more or less planned shots to present a view point , an issue or to exercise a
polemic. Laminated with voice over
and editing techniques to ensure a multilayered moulding of the material to
present a cogent statement about a subject.
It seems perhaps impossible or very difficult as a conscious
being to make reflective statements either in prose, media, film whatever without some pre-idea of
form or putative statement, even if these are subject to continual flux. ‘This is not a film’ seems to be
that rare entity: an unwitting product, a production made without specific form
made almost as a documentary doodle. It does of course, and it was intended by
it’s prime movers Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtamesh (MM) to show a situation:
the situation of house arrest. A
film shot as strips of action;
filming that was carried out
in defiance of the conditions of Jafar Panahi’s bail. A film that is little more than the
tapes that comprise it, recorded without much planning and with only the most
nebulous idea of what it should be.
The editing looks to have been sparse, most of the shots are long
sequences, that have only been topped and tailed. Perhaps this material would be used naively sent out as
a diffuse statement about JP’s situation or incorporated into another more
clearly planned film. That’s the
way it appeared to me.
But one sequence filmed as the last long shot changed
everything. We have a situation: a
famous Iranian filmmaker, known for his opposition to the regime is at home
confined under house arrest. He is in the course of appealing against a 6 year
prison sentence and a 20 year ban on leaving the country and making films. He mooches round his apartment
recording himself on film: waiting.
Finally his friend Mojtaba Mirtamash arrives: more filming; unplanned,
undertaken almost as a means to relieve JP’s tedium of days. Underlying everything there is: the unsaid, the uncertain, the encircling and the threatening. Then without announcement quietly in
one shot the final shot of the film all these forces reveal themselves as
immanent and omnipresent.
‘This is not a film’ opens as a simple strip of actions. A series of events taking place in a
situation whose outline we only dimly appreciate, then in this one and final
shot we see that what first seemed inconsequential in this film actually
encapsulates all the tragedy of a life.
JP is not so much in a situation; rather he is the
situation, JP is in a state of
conditional being and the film is undifferentiated from this condition. Jafar
films himself, on the phone to his lawyer; MM arrives and films him in the
apartment as JP acts out an unrealised script; JP talks about film and shows a
couple of shots from his output; his daughters pet iguana majestically stalks
the living room. Then the time
comes for MM to part. It is fireworks
night in Tehran, and sporadically we have heard the crack of the
gunpowder. JP is left alone by MM
who leaves the camera running un the kitchen table.
As MM leaves he talks to the man outside the front door who
is a nephew of the concierge and says he’s standing in for him whilst the
concierge attends a wedding in
Esfahan. Camera still
turning over, JP invites him in and talks to him as he collects the trash. Perhaps bored JP accompanies the guy,
still filming same shot, to the lift as he collects the trash from different
floors in the building. And at
this point in the closeness intimacy and banality of the lift, there is a
terrible realisation of what is happening….no edits no tricks just states of
mind revealed in the transport of tape across the record head.
Everything in this shot is unseen, the thoughts unsaid. Slowly inexorably there is the
realisation that the stand-in concierge is a government spy. He is spying on JP
and will report everything back to his controllers. The net of fate about JP has tightened. JP has been seen filming in defiance of
the Court. He is doomed. The appeal, the one possible hope, slim anyway, is now
dashed. The shot has the
inexorable movement of destiny. There seems a point in the filming where JP
realises exactly what is happening.
His voice hesitates and his questions to the ‘concierge’ falter and
stop. As if his mouth is drying
up. It might be that JP realises from the top of the shot what is going on; but
the feel from the interplay in the shot is of a gradual
realisation by JP of the actual situation and its
consequences. It is a slow motion
awakening to the terrible nature of what is happening in the intimacy of the
JP crammed in close physicality to his betrayer, close
enough to smell his breath falls into the silence of the damned, falls into the
After making the film ( said to have been smuggled out of Iran in a cake) MM was arrested and is currently in prison. JP’s appeal failed and he is in prison serving a six year stretch.
So this is not a movie; it’s a life Jafar Pahani film and
life interchangeably burnt into image.