It actually isn’t.
Jafar Panahi is an Iranian film-maker who is quite known for his movies pushing the boundaries and challenging the way that country’s government is run. So much so that he eventually lands himself under some serious hot water, when he is placed under house-arrest. Even worse though, he is given a 20-year ban on making, writing, or even producing a movie. Also to add insult to injury, he can’t leave the country either. Basically Panahi is supposed to just sit around all day, watch movies, go on the computer, feed his pet lizard, stay with his family, and wait around as a possible rebuttal is being drawn-up. But Panahi isn’t going to wait any longer; not just because he feels like pissing off the government anymore than he already has, but because he has ideas, dammit! And you know what? He’s going to try and film them to the best that he can. That’s when he decides to give his good buddy, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, a call to come over and help him film everything that he’s doing. Which, for the most part, consists of him talking about this idea for his next movie, his frustration with the situation he’s being thrown into, and the life he’s had, up until this point.
So yeah, this is a pretty tricky film in the sense that it’s a documentary, but not really; it’s about this guy’s life, but it’s also just about this one day in his life, as opposed to it being a biography of his life until this point. Any way that we’re supposed to know about Panahi’s childhood or his introduction into the filming-world is all up to us to find out for ourselves. Which yes, can be quite frustrating if you’re used to ordinary documentaries just telling you everything you need to know about its subject, but then again, this isn’t an ordinary documentary.
Still surprised I didn’t see any FYC ad’s going around town for that lizard. He practically steals the show. Or whatever this is that they’re filming.
As if you haven’t been able to already tell so far.
But regardless of if we get any background info on Panahi or not in this movie, it doesn’t matter, because what it does so well is that it places us in a day in the life of this guy as he’s under this peculiar situation. And by “a day in the life”, I mean exactly that – we start the movie with this guy in his kitchen, eating some sort of bread, talking on the phone, and ending it all with him outside as the night crowd rages on. We start the film seeing him, and end it, seeing what he sees it. And that’s pretty much how the whole film rolls for the most part.
May sound like a drag to some, and for a good portion of it, it totally is, but there’s still something quite invigorating about spending a whole day with someone you just literally met, and seeing everything that they are seeing. Which is to say that there’s not much camera-trickery to be found here; we get a couple of glimpses into a flick of his past and even his iPhone’s video-camera, but other than that, everything we see is solely from the view-point of Panahi and whatever it is that his camera films. It can either be him mapping-out set-designs for his next “possible” movie, or him just sitting on the computer, browsing as his lizard crawls up on him and scratches him with its sharp nails.
Sounds monotonous and somewhat boring, but I think that may be the point. And because that’s the point, it’s not boring to watch. We get a sense early on that this is a man who is genuinely upset about the position that he is thrown into and rather than pissing, moaning and ranting on and on for days about it, he thinks of ways that he could get any sort of creativity out of his system that may at all be possible. Sure, it sucks for him to be stuck inside his house all day during one of the craziest days of the year, while his family is all out and about, but he makes the best of it and there’s something nice and rather endearing in seeing that.
However, that isn’t to say it’s just Panahi the whole damn time; right around the middle of the flick, we get a visitor in Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, who doesn’t do much talking, but at least takes the camera for awhile and just films Panahi as he does whatever he wants (except go outside or make movies, that is). Because of him, this movie is possible and it makes us see the troubled, upset man that Panahi is. Yet again though, that isn’t to say he’s constantly whining about where he’s at and why he’s there; he understands why he’s being punished, by whom and is just trying to make it through it all. For that, it’s a bit of an inspirational tale, though it’s not hokey.
As I imagine Lars von Trier literally maps his movies out.
Once again, it’s just this guy’s life; more specifically, a day in his life. Not much happens, then again, not much needs to happen. Just seeing him let loose with all of the smart, creative ideas he has in his head and watching as he lets that spill out onto the floor around him, is really something of a sight; something I imagine almost each and every film-maker does with an inspired idea of theirs. Of course there are some brief detours (one in particular, a lady who knocks on his door trying to have him take her dog for her), but nothing to the point of where we lose our focus: Jafar Panahi. But then again though, there isn’t really much of a focus to begin with. We’re just watching him, his day, and occasionally hearing what he has to say, or seeing what he has to do.
As I said before too, some may find that utterly the most boring thing on the face of the planet, and I can’t necessarily disagree with that. Parts of it seem stale and uneventful, but that’s just how life is. Most importantly, that’s just how life is for this man, Jafar Panahi. He’s a creative-mind that wants to be able to use his talents, but can’t and because of that, he’s suffering and finding anyway he can possibly let all of his creativity out. Even if it does get him in some trouble.
And I don’t know about you, but that’s quite admirable.
Consensus: Though not an ordinary, conventional documentary by any means, This Is Not a Film still is unique in the way that it presents this man’s life, not through background info that reads like a WikiPedia page, but through this one day in his life where he has nowhere else to be except for his house, with his camera and with his creative-mind.
7.5 / 10 = Rental!!
Sort of like that scene from the Blair Witch Project, except 21st century technology. And more accessible portable-devices.
Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images