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Film Review: This Is Not a Film
by Birgit Schrumpf

Indeed, this is not a “film” but a diary in pictures showing one day in the life of Jafar Panahi, the Iranian film director. He was sentenced to six years in jail and banned from filmmaking for 20 years. At present he is out on bail but under house arrest with his appeal still pending. He is a man of about 50, sitting in his well-furnished apartment in Tehran in front of the camera, quietly eating breakfast, thinking aloud about his situation and letting us listen to his telephone conversation with his lawyer. In the course of the morning he asks his friend Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, a documentary filmmaker, to join him with his camera. Panahi starts reading the script of the film he was banned from shooting, trying to act it out on the living room carpet. It is totally frustrating to watch his ineffective efforts which he stops when disturbed by a neighbour with her barking little dog. On the TV screen he shows scenes of his films The Mirror and Crimson Gold and describes what he is looking for when making a film. He explains the little moments of letting the actors take over or giving-in to the realistic atmosphere of a place, always ready for the unexpected.

In the meantime his house-trained lizard is lazily walking all over the sofa, onto his shoulder (see photo above) and finally climbing the bookshelf. Very fascinating, watching this meter-long exotic animal. From time to time shots are being heard in the background and Panahi nervously looks outside, checking the street from his balcony whilst filming with his mobile telephone. The door bell rings and a young man collects the refuse. They start talking and Panahi follows him into the elevator with his iPhone. One wonders where their seemingly banal conversation is leading to whilst riding down to the ground floor. This adds a certain tension to the situation. Once at the front gate the shooting noise increases and fireworks are going off. Tehran celebrates Chahar Shanbeh Suri (“The Festival of the last Wednesday” of the Iranian New Year).

It may not be called a “film” but it is a perfectly documented expression of his frustrating situation and of what it means for this artist to live under a repressive regime, waiting for his pending court decision. With very limited means he succeeds in creating a forceful message.