Jafar Panahi has made a film about himself. It was smuggled out of Iran & shown at the Frontline Club yesterday (Sunday 39th of October 2011)
He has been sentenced to 6 years in prison & has been banned from making films for 20 years. I assume that the 6 year prison is worse than the 20 year ban but you never know. These heroes who openly defy the mullahs in Iran do seem to have an extra amount of courage. In fact he is quite a sensitive man. He had tried to go through the channels. And his film the White Balloon was pretty anodyne. That was the trouble with Iranian films. They all seemed to be about the innocence of childhood. Politics seemed to be a taboo subject unless the politics were entirely in favour of the régime.
The Circle broke with that. It was about women & the travails & humiliations they seem to have to suffer on a daily basis.
This not a film focuses on him as waits to be taken off & incarcerated for 6 years. He was & is resigned to his fate. The film starts off with Panahi eating breakfast. We see him talking to his family & to his lawyer. She says she is ashamed that she hasn’t managed to do more for him. She says that the verdict was not according to law; it was entirely political. She says that they never overturn their original verdict but that she was hoping to reduce the sentence. We see Panahi & the documentary maker Mohammad Rasoulof acting out the project which would have been his next film about a young girl not allowed to leave the house because she wanted further education. We see his daughter’s pet animal which looked like a small alligator crawling all over him. It is fireworks night. An event which dates back to Zoroastrian times, we see it announced on television that the government of Iran has deemed it to be unislamic & has duly banned it from next year. He films Rasoulof with his mobile phone. Rasoulof films him with the professional camera. A young girl come to the door & asks him to keep her dog in the flat for an hour while she goes to the fireworks. He momentarily agrees but once inside the flat, the barking is too much & he changes his mind, calls her back & makes her take the yapping creature called Mickey back.
A man comes to the door to collect the rubbish. We suspect that in fact he is a spy of some description. Rasoulof leaves & Panahi insists on coming with the young man collecting the rubbish, going from floor to floor in the lift, all the while filming him on his mobile phone & questioning him about his life. He is mysteriously vague about it, claiming to be a student but not exactly sure what he is a student of. He seems to become more confident & answers questions & talks about his life, possibly remembering what it is he would be expected to say; talking about unemployment & the sort of odd jobs he could be doing to earn money. They move up to the top floor in the lift & down to the basement but nobody else seems to have any rubbish. They reach the basement which is an underground car park & go outside. Where there is an inferno. It seems a metaphor for Hell & the film ends.
Jafar Panahi refused to allow other Iranian film-makers to appeal on his behalf on the grounds that if they did, they would be in trouble as well & wouldn’t be able to work. Panahi was to some extent relying on appeals from international film-makers, knowing however that the authorities cared nothing for such opinions.
Now Mohammad Rasoulof has now been arrested on unspecified charges. It seems that no dissent is to be tolerated.