Last Updated: Fri May 20, 2011 20:04 pm (KSA) 17:04 pm (GMT)

Iranian dissident's ‘This Is Not A Film’ premieres at Cannes

Jafar Panahi poses during an interview with AFP in Tehran in 2010. (AFP photo)
Jafar Panahi poses during an interview with AFP in Tehran in 2010. (AFP photo)

Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi’s “This Is Not A Film” premiered at Cannes after being smuggled out of the Islamic republic where the dissident has been sentenced to six years in jail.

The film, “In Film Nist” in Farsi, was screened out the traditional competition. It depicts a day in Mr. Panahi’s life as he waits to hear the appeal’s verdict on his jail sentence, as well as a 20-year filmmaking ban and a travel ban.

An Iranian court in December handed Mr. Panahi, 50, the sentence after he was convicted of “propaganda against the system” for making a film about unrest after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2009. There is wide speculation that the election was fixed to ensure that Mr. Ahmadinejad did not lose.

Fellow Iranian Mohammad Rasoulof, whose “Be Omid e Didar” (“Goodbye”) is in the festival’s Un Certain Regard section, received the same sentence and was also not able to attend Cannes despite the reported lifting of his travel ban.

“This Is Not A Film “ begins with what sounds like distant sporadic gunfire ringing out, followed by sirens. But, just as this is not a film, it transpires that the gunfire is in fact fireworks during a traditional fire festival.

But again, things are not what they seem. The festival is often seized on as an opportunity to protest—implicitly or explicitly—against the government, and some kind of protest going on is hinted at during the film.

This year, the festival fell on the night of March 15, the day during which Mr. Panahi's film was shot.

Mr. Panahi wanders around his surprisingly plush apartment, talking to his lawyer on the phone and trying to build a relationship with a large pet lizard.

A woman neighbor comes to try and get him to look after her dog, and a man studying for a master’s degree in the arts becomes an accidental protagonist when he arrives to collect the rubbish.

The cameraman Mojtaba Mirtahmasb shoots Mr. Panahi with a professional video camera, while Mr. Panahi shoots with an iPhone, raising the question: Is what he’s doing making a film?

“You call this a film? “ Mr. Panahi asks Mr. Mirtahmasb at one point.

Mr. Panahi reads from and enacts a film script about a girl who is locked up to prevent her going to university. Iranian authorities, again raising the question, refused the script: When does a film become a film?

Mr. Panahi watches extracts from his own films, comparing himself to some of his characters, including a little girl acting in his 1997 film “The Mirror” who refuses to act and throws off the cast on her arm.

“I must remove my cast and throw it away,” Mr. Panahi says.

The film’s credits roll with “Thanks to colleagues:” and “Many thanks to:” followed by blank spaces and then an announcement that the film is “Dedicated to Iranian film-makers.”

Mr. Panahi has been feted in his absence at foreign film festivals and Cannes is no exception.

The film’s co-director (and cameraman), Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, addressed the audience before the screening.

“I'm very happy that the film could be made and very happy that it’s at Cannes,” he said. “The god Zarathustra said that to fight darkness you don’t brandish a sword but you light a candle.”

Berlin in February, Venice in September and Cannes a year ago all invited Mr. Panahi to sit on their juries, leaving a symbolic empty chair for him when he was barred from leaving Iran.

Mr. Panahi is known for his gritty, socially critical movies such as “The Circle,” which bagged the 2000 Venice Golden Lion award, “Crimson Gold,” and “Offside,” winner of a Silver Bear at the 2006 Berlin film festival.

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