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Jafar Panahi: This Is Not a Retrospective

Circle games
By PETER KEOUGH  |  November 26, 2012

After being confined to his Tehran apartment and banned from his profession in 2010, director Jafar Panahi has become known more as a victim of Iranian human-rights abuse than as a great filmmaker. True, his films decry oppression, but they do so with formal brilliance. To best appreciate this, watch them all at the Harvard Film Archive's "Jafar Panahi: This Is Not a Retrospective."

>> READ: "This is not a prison: Jafar Panahi's This Is Not a Film" <<

Panahi started with children's films, the genre's innocence veiling subversiveness. In The White Balloon (1995; December 2 @ 5 pm), Razieh (Aida Mohammadkhani) wants a goldfish. Her mother gives her money for one, which Razieh loses. Following the advice of a sympathetic adult, Razieh "goes back the way she came." Neorealistic in style, Balloon glows like a fairy tale, with its heroine undergoing trials and dangers, each revealing the pathology of society. More subtly, it follows a circular structure, beginning and ending the same way.

In The Mirror (1997; December 1 @ 7 pm) Panahi seems stuck in a circle himself. A girl, also played by Mohammadkhani, tries to find her way home. Like Razieh, she encounters perils, but pretty soon the actress herself is fed up with the movie, and tells Panahi that she's quitting. Covertly, Panahi keeps filming her as she finds her way home for real, his authority as a director mirroring the tyranny of the regime.

The Circle (2000; November 30 @ 9 pm), unsurprisingly, resumes the circular structure. Like La Ronde, it follows a daisy chain of episodes, beginning with a scene in which a woman gives birth to an unwanted girl behind a maternity-ward door, and ending with a similar prison door, behind which languish several unwanted girls, now lost women.

The circle continues with Crimson Gold (2003; December 1 @ 9 pm), opening with a doomed thief trapped behind a grate in a jewelry store he's attempting to rob, and ending in the same place. It might be Panahi's bleakest film, but the next, Offside (2006; December 3 @ 7 pm), is optimistic. Busloads of fans head for the Iranian soccer team's World Cup qualifying match. Among them are girls disguised as boys, because women are banned from sporting events. The police catch them and hold them in custody, but when the fans return in triumph, the girls are freed.

Under house arrest, Panahi made This Is Not a Film (2011; November 30 @ 7 pm and December 2 @ 7 pm). Shot in his apartment, it consists of him sharing an unmade film without making the film itself. In the process he summarizes all of his movies. Also, it has the best iguana since Herzog's Bad Lieutenant.


JAFAR PANAHI: THIS IS NOT A RETROSPECTIVE :: Harvard Film Archive November 30–December 3

WANT MORE MOVIE NEWS? :: Read Peter Keough's film blog at

  Topics: Features , Movies, Iran, Jafar Panahi,  More more >
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