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Thursday, March 1, 2012

This is Not a Masterpiece

-- By Tom Phillips


A video smuggled out of Tehran has reached our shores, the work of Jafar Panahi, a director under a 20-year ban on making movies, who is also facing a 6-year prison term imposed by the Iranian authorities.  His crimes were supporting the “green” movement that protested the Islamic government’s refusal to accept the results of elections in 2009, and something translated as “gloomism” in his earlier films – showing Iranian life in a dark light.  

The video -- titled “This is Not a Film” -- shows a day in the life of a film-maker trying to find a way out of his personal and artistic prison without violating the terms of his sentence. It shows Panahi in his Tehran apartment, eating breakfast, doing household chores, conferring with lawyers and colleagues, and trying to create art by reading a screenplay aloud amidst an imaginary set laid out on the Persian rug in his living room.  The New York Times immediately hailed the video as a “masterpiece,” in a review that called it a “subtle, strange and haunting work of art.”  I didn’t see it that way at all.   To me, it was a documentary of the ultimate punishment power can inflict on art –  snuffing out its life before it ever sees the light.