“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 multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published soon. Previews of the project are on Twitter and on Instagram as Ghost Signs Chicago. More photography on Instagram.