>>RSA Animate: "First as Tragedy, Then as Farce"
UK, 2010 | Slavoj Žižek
In this eleven minute talk, Philosopher Slavoj Žižek discusses how ethics and charity have been co-opted by capitalism, and why this is problematic. As with all RSA Animate videos, the audio is complemented by a visually stunning cartoon, which unfolds in front of the viewer’s eyes in time with the lecture.
Žižek is fun to listen to; he makes philosophical arguments palatable through a combination of pop-culture references and dirty jokes. But if his thoughts about the futility of charitable sentiment (the quoted portions of his brief talk below will give you an idea) are not your cup of tea, you can find on RSA’s website a range of talks more suited to your specific taste, be it education, economics, psychology, linguistics, etc. — all supplemented by cartoons which do more than just add context to the talks and, in fact, have a beautiful, ingenious aesthetic quality of their own.
>>This Is Not a Film
Iran, 2011 | Jafar Panahi & Mojtaba Mirtahmasb
This Is Not a Film is probably the only work ever shown at Cannes that had to be smuggled across a border on a flash drive hidden inside a cake. In 2010, Iranian director Jafar Panahi was arrested for shooting a film without a permit, which is necessary in the highly restrictive Iranian film industry, in which the government must approve every script before shooting begins. He was sentenced to six years in prison and a 20-year ban on making films, giving interviews, and leaving the country. While awaiting his appeal of this sentence, Panahi made This Is Not a Film.
Any classification or labelling of this work would not do it justice; it is wholly unique, a piece of art that is nothing other than itself. Panahi, on house arrest, films himself in his apartment in Tehran. Worried that what he has filmed will be “a lie,” he enlists friend and filmmaker Mojtaba Mirtahmasb to help him film. With Mirtahmasb behind the camera, Panahi reads and acts out a screenplay he wrote that failed to get approval from the government. Discouraged that this too is a lie, Panahi questions the value of this project. Interspersed are dealings with the neighbors, his pet lizard, news clips, the fireworks of the Persian New Year celebration outside, and the building’s garbage collector.
To understand the multiplicity of meanings offered by This Is Not a Film, consider the title. It is simultaneously a kind of legal disclaimer, a meditation on the nature of cinema, and a self-deprecating joke. The work slides in and out of different modes and ideas, shifting and squirming under the weight of Panahi’s forthcoming sentence. More than anything, it depicts a man in desperation — desperate to continue making the films that are so clearly his lifeblood, desperate to document his situation, desperate to take control of circumstances so clearly out of his control. This Is Not a Film is intense and immediate, creating and defining itself as it progresses.
Even the fiction/documentary binary fails to apply here — while the characters are all themselves, and Pahani is committed to depicting the truth, some elements, especially the effusive and charming trash collector who dominates the final section of the film, seem too cinematic to be real. But the brilliance of This is Not a Film is the way it engages with the confluence of these concepts.
Panahi is currently awaiting what’s called “Execution of Verdict,” meaning that he could be sent to prison at any time, according to the will of his government. Somehow, Panahi has just completed another film, Closed Curtain, which is now playing in select theaters in the US. Clearly, and thankfully, against all odds, Panahi will continue making films no matter the risk.
This Is Not a Film is available on Netflix.