15 06 2016

TaxiWant to know any country, city or geographic unit? Take a look at its transportation. Mobility is a necessity in every corner of this planet. Particularly in urban areas, it is through transportation where one can gauge the pulse of a society.

This is particularly apparent in “Taxi” from Jafar Panahi, the Iranian director still technically banned from making films for decades. Through hidden cameras, he traverses Tehran, garnering different perspectives from each of his many passengers as he goes. Even in just 80 minutes, he manages to jam the film full of potent commentary on everything from gender dynamics to cultural isolation and even the state of film distribution.

This verité-fiction hybrid proves a far more intriguing artistic gambit than his anti-film “This Is Not A Film,” a fairly obvious and pointed jab at his then-recent filmmaking ban. “Taxi” offers up an equally defiant middle finger to the regime without resorting to obvious polemic. This observational landscape film both acknowledges the harsh climate in which he must illicitly make art and agilely navigates it. B+3stars

REVIEW: This Is Not a Film

10 01 2015

This Is Not a FilmWhen Americans complain about censorship, that’s usually a term being liberally applied by Harvey Weinstein while yelling at the MPAA to give him the rating he wants.  Be it “Blue Valentine,” “The King’s Speech,” “Bully,” or “Philomena,” the cry of censorship seems more like a PR maneuver in our country than an affront to human liberty.

Yet in “This Is Not a Film,” we get a glimpse at what actual censorship looks like in an authoritarian regime.  The voice of filmmaker Jafar Panahi has quite literally been squelched by the Iranian government.  After being convicted of propagandizing dissent again, he has been banned from making films for 30 years.

So rather than take it, Panahi creates a work that is, technically, not a film.  He brings in a cameraman to his apartment where he is confined to house arrest, and they go through the motions of the film he would be making.  Panahi describes what it would look like as he reads the script, staging and blocking various scenes alone in his living room.

The concept is a fascinating one – not to mention a courageous act of filmmaking.  “This Is Not a Film,” in its surface efforts to avoid being a film, actually becomes a powerful document of resistance that shows true exile.

Yet while it is unquestionably a bold premise, the execution leaves a little to be desired.  Perhaps Panahi would have been better crafting a short subject documentary out of “This Is Not a Film.”  The cleverness of the idea wears thin quickly and tries our patience as it moves forward with a rather dreary naturalism.

But, in a way, how it turned out is almost beside the point.  The most important aspect of “This Is Not a Film” is the simple fact that it was made.  C+2stars