The film seems rather dense and layered, and since I haven’t really thought about it much, I’m not sure what to make of it. I don’t have a good sense of what it’s about and what it’s trying to do. Is the film trying to speak about against the Iranian government? Is it about the nature of film? Is about something else or other things? I have no idea. In any event, I’m not sure if I’m going to have the time or motivation to analyze the film on my own, so I thought I’d jot down some thoughts, impressions and questions before I forget them.
>I got the sense that the ending sequence with the guy coming to pick up the trash was staged, not spontaneous. Not that this is a significant point, but I’m just writing whatever comes to my mind first. Anyway, the “trash collector”/student seemed like an actor to me, and he seemed to be acting. The coincidence with the neighbors dog suggested it was planned, but maybe not. Again, I don’t think this is a significant issue. (Or maybe the fact that some parts of the film are staged might provoke more uncertainty and questions about the nature of film.)
The scene with Panahi describing the film he wanted to make might represent all the points I refer to above. For one thing, his descriptions of scenes didn’t work at all in the film; they were boring, and pointless—but that seems to be the point (although he appears to have genuinely realized at one point in the shooting—he says, “If talking about a film works, why do I need to shoot a film?” or something to that effect.)! So one purpose of the scenes may be to show what is not a film (or not a successful one, anyway).
Perhaps, the scenes also show that the film is relatively benign, underscoring the unfairness of the Iranian government’s decision to prevent him to make the film (among other things). As an American, I have difficulty judging this, as imagining a film that warrants censorship is very difficult (not one made by someone like Panahi, anyway).
I’d love to hear from people from Iran (although, sadly, I’m not sure if that’s practical) about these and other issues in the film. (I suspect that I can’t appreciate many aspects of the film due to my lack of understanding of Iranian culture, politics, history, etc. For example, the person introducing the film mentioned that Iranians pop fireworks on New Year’s Day [celebrated in March], but it is really illegal to do so. I’m not sure about the significant of this—but it seems significant.)
>What’s the meaning of the title? (Is the title the same in the original language?) Is the film questioning the nature of film, while also mocking and/or challenging the Iranian government? Maybe it’s commenting on the nature of communication, artistic expression and free speech? (If the film manages to do all three well, that would be something.)
>The film made me think of Herzog—specifically the way the filmmakers filmed and used the iguana. The use of the iguana had a poetic quality, imo; as if represented Panahi and said something about his current condition.
“The scene with Panahi describing the film he wanted to make might represent all the points I refer to above. For one thing, his descriptions of scenes didn’t work at all in the film; they were boring, and pointless—but that seems to be the point "
I agree completely. I don’t even remember what the film was about that he was describing. It did seem boring but like you said, I think that he’s aware of that. In some ways, I felt the whole point of the movie was to question what censorship is, what it means, and how even in the face of adversity, an artist will always create. An artist will not be silenced. Typically in talking about adversity that filmmakers face, it usually has to do with creative control, finances, budgets, studio interference, talent issues, etc. And most of the time, when we hear about a filmmaker facing adversity, it’s usually when they overcome that adversity. Of course there are times when the obstacles defeat the artist, such as in what was depicted in the doc Lost in La Mancha.
But in This is Not a Film, the adversity that Panahi faces comes from the gov’t. The obstacle that he must overcome is making a film even though the gov’t won’t let him. Instead of cedes to the gov’t, he tries a workaround. He makes a film about not making a film. It’s a brilliant workaround. It’s like a kid who’s been told he can’t watch TV for a month but then is caught playing video games (“You never said anything about playing video games!”).
“Is the film questioning the nature of film, while also mocking and/or challenging the Iranian government? "
I think that’s exactly it. It’s totally mocking the Iranian gov’t and is why that even though “this is not a film”, it still had to be smuggled out of the country (in a birthday cake, no less).
In some ways, I felt the whole point of the movie was to question what censorship is, what it means, and how even in the face of adversity, an artist will always create. An artist will not be silenced.
What are some specific ways film questions censorship? And what does it say about the meaning of censorship?
The film would show drawbacks and problems of censorship. Clearly, Panahi is unhappy and has to go through a lot of hassles, but that doesn’t necessarily show that censorship is wrong or that it was inappropriate in this specific case. I’m not agreeing with the Iranian government’s decision, nor to do I support censorship of art, not generally, anyway, but I’m trying to look at this issue critically, and thoughtfully.
When he describes the film, it does seem rather harmless and doesn’t seem to warrant the Iranian government’s decision. In that way, maybe the film makes clear that the decision was largely political—i.e., payback for Panahi openly supporting the candidate who lost. (I’m not sure if this was mentioned in the film, but the person who introduced the film mentioned that Panahi actively supported the presidential candidate who eventually lost.)
Mocking because he’s able to make a film even though he wasn’t supposed to? I don’t know if that’s effective mocking, though. I mean, it’s an act of defiance, but I’m not sure if it makes the government look bad, per se.
(On an unrelated note, I never liked Crimson Gold—never understood it. But the film reveals that the lead character was actually schizophrenic and would often “act out”—and Panahi and the filmmakers ostensibly tried to incorporate this in the film. I had no idea this was going on, and I want to re-watch the film with this in mind.)
“What are some specific ways film questions censorship? And what does it say about the meaning of censorship?”
Well I’d have to see the film again to get into specifics. But just the fact that he takes the risk of making the film speaks volumes about censorship, what it means to silence an artist, and how it reflects the motivations and intentions of an artist who must create. In other words, for an artist, his art is his life. If you take away his art and his ability to express himself, you’re taking away his life. I loved how in the film, this isn’t overtly addressed, at least not in a soapbox, message-type of a way. Instead of complaining about all the injustices he’s faced and how awful the gov’t is, he just continues to do what he does, which is to make films. I think that says enough, doesn’t it? Especially when he does it in the way that he does, by “explaining” his new film and trying to act it out. As you said, that was boring and wasn’t effective in expressing what the film actually was, which was the point – that is to say, censorship doesn’t work.
Btw – I haven’t seen any of Panahi’s other films.
Instead of complaining about all the injustices he’s faced and how awful the gov’t is, he just continues to do what he does, which is to make films. I think that says enough, doesn’t it?
I don’t know. To some extent, I think the movie—or at least the issues you’re raising about censorship—requires knowledge about the specific situation as well the culture and history of Iran. For example, I mentioned that some people in Iran shoot off fireworks during New Year’s Day (which is celebrated in March)—and this is illegal. We see this in the film, and that knowledge puts a different spin on these scenes. For example, maybe the scenes suggest that government arresting Panahi is mainly political payback for his vocal support of the opposition—e.g., the government doesn’t crack down on fireworks, something illegal, so whatever law Panahi broke is probably a pretense for punishing him. I’m not sure if that’s accurate, but it might be an example of the way cultural information may be crucial to appreciating this film.
As you said, that was boring and wasn’t effective in expressing what the film actually was, which was the point – that is to say, censorship doesn’t work.
I thought the point was that explaining a film isn’t the same as experiencing an actual movie. Another point might have been to show how benign the film really was—i.e., the Iranian government weren’t justified in stopping the making of the film.
I think you would like The White Balloon, fwiw.