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Originally published Thursday, April 12, 2012 at 3:03 PM

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Movie review

'This Is Not a Film': a look at life in Iran, while under house arrest

A four-star movie review of "This Is Not a Film," Jafar Panahi's subtle but pointed — and compellingly personal — critique of his native Iran while under house arrest in 2010.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 4 stars

'This Is Not a Film,' with Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb. Directed by Jafar and Mirtahmasb, from a screenplay by Panahi. 74 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. In Farsi, with English subtitles. Northwest Film Forum, through Thursday.

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Never mind the title. The remarkable "This Is Not a Film," an almost unclassifiable act of subtle defiance against an oppressive authority, is, in fact, very much a film.

It's also quite possibly the last we will see for a very long time from Jafar Panahi, the beleaguered Iranian director of the extraordinary "The White Balloon," "The Circle" and "Offside."

Panahi, 51, a brilliant creator of deceptively simple works of sociopolitical allegory, drew the wrath of Iran's totalitarian government for protesting a disputed presidential election in 2009. He was tried and sentenced to prison and a 20-year ban on filmmaking. "This Is Not a Film," smuggled out of Iran, was shot during a period of house arrest while awaiting a doomed appeal.

Shrugging off that ban, Panahi becomes the subject of one of his own seemingly meandering, documentarylike dramas about nothing and everything. Collaborating with director Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Panahi shot and edited "This Is Not a Film" to look like one day in his life of confinement.

He chats on the phone with his attorney and a young filmmaker stopped at a police checkpoint. He despairs over a screenplay he was barred from producing.

But the more "This Is Not a Film" underscores the cruel containment of a great artist, the more we actually become aware — very indirectly, in a very Panahi fashion — of a city in chaos outside, with sounds of gunfire and distant street blazes.

Without leaving his building, Panahi has made another of his understated but pointed observations of his country.

"This Is Not a Film" won't help his legal situation, but it tells us he won't go out quietly.

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@gmail.com

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