Posts tagged ‘iran’
Iranian director Jafar Pahahi has been under house arrest for more than a year now awaiting the outcome of latest appeal of his 2010 conviction of conspiring to overthrow Iran’s Islamic Republic. His latest effort, This Is Not A Film is a documentary of what he describes as “two idle filmmakers,” Panahi and fellow Iranian director Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, attempting to make sense out of a nonsensical situation. Filmed mostly inside Panahi’s Tehran apartment over the course of a day and evening, the movie is an interesting metaphor for the likely state of Panahi’s frustrated creative mind right now.
The movie follows Panahi as he eat breakfast and kibitzes with his lawyer on the phone about the possible results of his legal appeal. It then continues with a visit from Mirtahmasb who films Panahi as he describes the scenario for his most recently script, lately rejected by the Iranian censorship board. Panahi and Mirtahmasb begin to block out the film on Panahi’s living room rug, but the process abruptly ends and the documentary goes on several tangents. Somehow Panahi ends up filming Mirtahmasb on his cell phone camera while Mirtahmasb is filming him, in circumspect defiance of the regime’s ban on Panahi making films. The film ends with Panahi interviewing an art student/garbage collector/deliveryman on his trash-collecting rounds as they discuss the difficulties of creating work under the current regime’s oppressive eye.
Attesting to Panahi’s status as one of Iran’s leading directors, we see him in his comfortable flat casually name-checking various members of the Iranian filmmaking pantheon such as Rakhshān (Bani-E’temād) and Khambozia (Partovi). Yet he also seems quite at ease chatting with the art student/garbageman and doesn’t seem to mind riding in an elevator with a smelly trashcan.
This Is Not A Film has the same watchful intelligence as Panahi’s narrative films (The Circle; Offside; Crimson Gold), and as with those films, this one possesses a sharp critique of the Iranian power structure. Several times Panahi mentions his unwillingness to solicit public support from his fellow Iranian filmmakers due to the risks from the government their aid may cause them and Mirtahmasb at one point asks Panahi to take a picture of him as evidence in case the government retaliates against him for helping out Panahi. Throughout the documentary an uneasy undercurrent of repression flavors the goings-on, adding a furtive guardedness to the proceedings.
Panahi maintains a keen eye for metaphor–he paces fitfully in his apartment, only able to connect to the outside world through remote devices like the cell phone or through TV news, or at a distance, by watching the city’s daily life at a remove on his balcony. The storyline of Panahi’s rejected script involves a young woman attempting to escape the house that her family has locked her in, which of course echoes Panahi’s own real-life house arrest. Tellingly, the recounting of this story and others in the documentary are interrupted and unfinished, adding to the film’s mood of incompleteness and frustration.
Panahi also makes good use of the spectacle of Fireworks Wednesday, the boisterous celebration of Persian New Year. The film ends with Panahi viewing from afar a bonfire just outside the gates of his apartment building as his visitor warns him not to be seen holding a camera or “they will see you.” As he lingers in his doorway he clearly longs to join the celebration, yet his wariness that “they” will censure him constrains him.
This small moment is an excellent representation of the invisible restrictions on Panahi’s freedom and the way in which the Iranian regime holds him captive, as well as the means by which he attempts to subvert that captivity. The doublespeak of This Is Not A Film’s title echoes that subversion, as Panahi tries to find a workaround to his confinement without pushing the regime too far. It’s a delicate, frustrating balance and one Panahi captures pretty effectively in this film. His creative life hangs in the balance and, like the interrupted stories throughout, if the Iranian government prevails, it may never reach its full completeness.
This Is Not a Film (In film nist, Iran 2011), dir. Jafar Panahi
opens April 6
SF Film Society Cinema
1746 Post Street
San Francisco CA
go here for tickets and information
Although I love the overwrought histrionics of commercial cinema (see Agneepath), that’s certainly not the only way to make a movie. Two films that have been on a lot of last year’s top ten lists have recently made their way to San Francisco cinemas. Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon A Time In Anatolia and Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation are both riveting pieces of work that deal with the ambiguity and shades of gray found in complex moral situations
Despite a title that harkens back to Sergio Leone’s expressionistic spaghetti Westerns, Ceylan’s Anatolia is an understated, masterfully told story that sidesteps the conventions of most genre films. The film follows a group of local police through a long night on the Anatolian steppes as they search for the grave of a murdered man. The cops are reluctantly assisted by two perps whose memory of the crime wavers in and out of focus throughout the night.
As they drive around western Turkey’s vast landscape the police amiably debate the benefits of sheep versus buffalo yogurt, meticulously tot up mileage for reimbursement, and gossip about who among them might have prostate issues, among other mundanities. The narrative unfolds naturalistically, without a soundtrack, with some of the dialogue seemingly improvised or loosely scripted. Themes and plot points emerge slowly and sometimes indirectly—a character’s offhanded comment in one scene takes on great relevance later in the film. Such restraint and respect for the audience’s intelligence is a welcome change from the hamhandedness of most films, where exposition is a blunt instrument used to club the viewer into submission.
The film presents realistic, complex characters, with killers that weep remorsefully, cops that show compassion for criminals, and men who are overawed by the beauty of a young woman simply serving tea by candlelight. Ceylan’s direction brings a deft and subtle touch to the film—the movie concludes with a matter-of-fact autopsy with the unsettling sounds of the procedure, including cracking breastbones and dripping fluids, emphasizing the operation’s dehumanizing effect. Overall Ceylan’s direction is a lovely thing to behold, as he uses the policemen’s wanderings through the Anatolian countryside as a metaphor for the imprecision and ambiguity of humanity’s moral landscape.
While it also looks at the unclarity of human morality, A Separation’s briskly paced and intense storyline takes a different tack than Anatolia’s slower, more naturalistic tale. Farhadi’s political allegory/family drama starts in medias res, with a middle-class Iranian couple arguing their case directly to the camera (standing in for the off-screen judge). Simin, the wife wants a divorce in order to move to the United States against the wishes of Nader, her husband, who feels a duty and an obligation to remain in Iran to care for his Alzheimer’s-afflicted father. Simin pleads the urgency of going abroad in order to improve the life of their adolescent daughter Termeh, although the details of this necessity are not made clear. The judge dismisses her suit, and Simin decides to move to her mother’s house rather than stay with her husband. The film follows the aftermath of her decision, with this seemingly small action leading to unexpected, ever-broadening repercussions.
The film features an outstanding ensemble cast including Leila Hatami and Peyman Moaadi, who won Best Actress and Actor awards at the 2011 Berlin Film Festival for their portrayals of the conflicted couple. However the rest of the performances are also excellent, including Sareh Bayat as the devout woman that Nader hires to care for his father, and Shahab Hosseini as her hotheaded husband.
Director Farhadi makes great use of his locations’ architecture, confining his characters in small, enclosed spaces that stifle communication and hinder movement. He also effectively utilizes windows and doors, often framing the actors separated or trapped behind panes of glass. Several times his characters slam or pound on a rattling, fragile stained-glass door, yet it resolutely resists shattering. The door thus becomes a symbol for the delicate yet impenetrable separations of class, religion, and gender that divide Iranian society.
Farhadi also successfully conveys the illogic of government bureaucracy in a chaotic trial that takes place in a cramped, crowded judge’s chambers. Witnesses shout at each other without hesitation, various people come and go, and criminal charges quickly escalate from theft to battery to murder based on hearsay, conjecture, and unproven accusations.
The film ultimately hinges on 11-year-old Termeh’s choice—which parent will she stay with? Her indecision becomes the crux of the film, symbolizing the impossibility of neatly resolving most human conflicts.
Like Once Upon A Time In Anatolia, A Separation eschews a Hollywood ending—loose ends dangle, storylines are unresolved, and characters remain in limbo. As in real life, clear and easy resolutions aren’t a part of the picture.
UPDATE: As expected, A Separation won for Best Foreign-language Picture at this year’s Oscars, following a similar award at the Golden Globes and, as expected, with Israel on the verge of bombing its irascible neighbor, (with the tacit approval of the U.S. government), the film’s increased profile is being spun by all sides. Although director Farhadi used his Oscar acceptance speech to make a plea for tolerance and understanding, the Iranian government claimed the award was a blow against “the Zionist lobby,” while Iranian hard-liner Masoud Ferasati called the film “the dirty picture (of Iran that) westerners are wishing for.” No doubt more mud will be slung on both sides of the propaganda war.