The title of “This Is Not a Film” is itself a bitter joke on the illogic of totalitarian thinking. The acclaimed Iranian director Jafar Panahi has been banned by the state from all filmmaking activities for 20 years and, when we see him in this footage shot in 2011, he’s appealing a six-year prison sentence for “assembling and colluding with the intention to commit crimes against the country’s national security.” He is not allowed to make a film. Therefore, this is not a film.
What is it, then? One day in the life of a bored and stymied 50-year-old man who can’t leave his house. A deflected plea for the freedom to speak, to create, to live. An attempt to tell the story of the movie the Iranian government won’t let him make. A portrait of an imploding country as seen from a Tehran balcony.