“If we could tell a film then why make a film?” Heard the one about the prisoner who had a saw smuggled into prison in a cake? Ollllld joke. The absurdist modern version that ekes only a mordant “Ha!” is the journey of “This Is Not A Film” (In Film Nist) from Tehran to the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, a seventy-one-minute digital film smuggled out on a USB thumb drive tucked into a pastry. Iranian director Jafar Panahi [“Offside” (2006), “Crimson Gold” (2003), “The White Balloon” (1995)] offended the powers-that-be around the time of the Green Revolution and while under house arrest in Tehran, could be sent to prison for six years at any moment under a sentence that also prevents him from doing interviews or making movies for twenty years. Made in Panahi’s home, partly on an iPhone and with a modest DV camera, the filmmaker and documentarian Mojtaba Mirtahmasb create a document, something of a documentary, but also an artfully crafted fiction, that describes the fallow filmmaker and prisoner-in-waiting’s daily life. In “This Is Not A Film,” Panahi describes the film he had intended to make, reading from its script, demonstrating how he would have blocked the actors’ movements across his living-room carpet, marking off scenes with masking tape. The Magritte-esque provocation of the title grows with each passing moment of screen time. It’s enraging, mesmerizing, earnest, powerful, dignified, funny and furiously entertaining. Panahi is compelling, and he also makes a star of the family’s ever-mobile, needy pet iguana. Neither Panahi nor Mirtahmasb take a directorial credit; instead, it’s described as an “effort.” And, painfully, an effortlessly great one at that. This is not not a masterpiece. 75m. (Ray Pride)
“This Is Not A Film” opens Friday at Siskel. A clip from early in the film is below.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.