The Unfilm

Jafar Panahi's "This Is Not a Film"


The Unfilm
by Ari Siletz

Director Jafar Panahi has said, "I am an Iranian. I am staying in my country and I like to work in my country. I love my country. I have paid a price for this love too, and am willing to pay again if necessary." The price, so far, has been his arrest, being sentenced to six years in jail, and having a 20 year filmmaking ban imposed on him. But Pahani is a fighter who can dish it out as well as take it. Last year, while under house arrest waiting for the outcome of his appeal, he made a home video mocking the ban order on his filmmaking. Technically, the work is not a film, hence the title, This Is Not a Film.

Trapped in his apartment, the director doesn’t have a wide choice of locations for his unfilm. There’s the kitchen, the dining room, the living room, and the balcony, with one intriguing dialog taking place in the building elevator. As for the casting, Panahi is necessarily the lead actor, with the family’s pet iguana and the building janitor performing supporting roles. There is also a cameo appearance by the neighbor’s yapping lapdog. I won’t emphasize the contribution of documentary filmmaker Mojtaba Mirtahmasb to this unfilm because he’s already in enough trouble with the authorities. Let’s just pretend he showed up at the apartment to lend Panahi a camera and to show him how to use it. In fact we hear Mirtahmasb clearly remind Panahi on tape that he shouldn’t say “cut” because that would constitute directing. Panahi obliges from then on.

Lucky for Panahi, the narrative unfolds on Chaharshanbeh Souri when celebrating Iranians bombard their cities with fireworks and explosives. As Panahi acquaints us with the indomitable spirit of an artist being slowly suffocated by repression, a blazing drama rages outside, shaking the windows with explosions. Of course this timing was just a coincidence and Panahi wasn’t really using his brilliance as a filmmaker to add meaning, message, and symbolism to a humble home video. God forbid he should defy his 20 year ban on filmmaking.

It would be a tragedy to take This Is Not a Film simply as the lamentations of an artist cut off from his art because it is also a cry for help and a call to action. We overhear Panahi discuss his appeal process on the telephone with friends. He seems to be telling the world that international pressure can help him. He wouldn’t refuse domestic supporters, but worries about the risks to them. Ultimately though, This Is Not a Film is just art. In the final shot, the building janitor who Panahi has filmed collecting trash floor by floor pushes the residents’ haul of garbage towards a huge bonfire outside the building gates. If this were a film, I would say it had symbolic a happy ending!  


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more from Ari Siletz
Esfand Aashena

A new picture of Jafar Panahi out and about

by Esfand Aashena on

Gharibe Ashena

Sad waste of a great talent..

by Gharibe Ashena on

Hope his sentence is over turned soon and he can make movies the way he wants to. Thanks for posting.


Ari, thanks for

by Azarbanoo on

Posting and news about this Great Iranian Director Mr. Panahi.  GOD bless him and free him from his ordeal soon.

Esfand Aashena

Definitely thumbs up!

by Esfand Aashena on

I saw this film earlier this year in a film festival.  I think luck (janitor) had a lot to do with the film ending up as it did to make it complete.  The best part of the movie for me was when the janitor told Panahi "Mr. Panahi you should've said something so I could've worn a better outfit!"  He was worried he'd show up in a film (which he did) with his work clothes!  and then later he protects Panahi for not going outside and staying in.

On a side note 4shanbeh souri has gotten out of control with every passing year.  So much noise and fire it's as if people are in a middle of a war zone!  It's crazy! 

Everything is sacred