This Is Not a Film ★★★½

With Mojtaba Mirtahmasb behind the camera — at least in-part — so that Panahi cannot be accused of "directing" THIS IS NOT A FILM, the director mills around his apartment and then acts out parts of a script that was deemed beyond the bounds of acceptable expression. However, his irrepressible urge to partake in his vocation eventually wins out, the mere act of which makes every innocuous thing that he films — primarily, a charming student taking out the garbage — take on the air of a potent rebellion against oppression and persecution. It's an unassumingly effective act of protest, and THIS IS NOT A FILM, while it appears to do very little, should highlight to Western audiences the stark difference between real and imagined police states, as well as the chilling effect of political demands for conformity of thought and expression.

Yet, Panahi's story is not one of hopelessness — despite his censure and prison sentence, which was later commuted to a "house arrest" preventing him from leaving Iran, and a 20-year ban on moviemaking — he is resilient, continuing to "unofficially" produce, appear in and release acclaimed films. It's difficult to discern the Iranian government's response to his continued activity; maybe as a result of international pressure, Iran appears to tolerate Panahi, at least for the moment, but THIS IS NOT A FILM provides a potent document of the delicacy and uncertainty with which some filmmakers are forced to approach their art, and should make those in liberal countries both thankful for their freedom and vigilant against the encroaching influence of state and mob censors.