by Afra Nariman
Where Are You, Jafar Panahi? (2016)
Director: Jafar Panahi
An incredible short self-portrait of Panahi’s strenuous filmmaking circumstances, and a spiritual precursor to his 2022 masterpiece, NO BEARS. This short would make for a wonderful introduction to anybody looking to dive into his works for the first time, or who wants to learn more about the nature of Panahi’s filmmaking ban, as well as who he is as an artist.
This film illustrates just how prevalent and constant the oppressive politics of the Islamic Republic is on people’s daily lives in Iran; as over the course of just a 20 minute conversation, many of these truths are uncovered.
In the words of Jafar Panahi himself, when discussing the nature of his own plight regarding the trouble he has had with the government’s suppressive censorship of his films, which eventually led to the filmmaking ban, and today, imprisonment and abuse:
“Who knows, maybe in another country, this type of cinema that we do, would be a government’s dream. The cinema that is interested in social problems, that shows society’s miseries, that makes people of power think and find solutions.”
I’ve said this in my previous reviews of his films, but the world truly needs more filmmakers with the unwavering conviction and loyalty to truth, that Jafar Panahi exudes in each of his films, and with his every breath in life. Filmmaking is the art of uncovering truth; in regards to whichever aspect of human existence a filmmaker’s curiosity lies. Sometimes it is based purely on abstract curiosities; but often, as is the case with Panahi’s work, they come from lived-experience.
In this film, Panahi discusses the balance an artist must find between solving social problems, and satisfying oneself:
“If an artist himself is able, when he is alone, in front of a mirror — in front of the reflection that fills the mirror, that somehow represents his own conscience — if he can convince his own conscience, his reflection that he did a good job, well, then all is right…. In everything that I’ve done, I was able to find that connection with my inner self. I never had any regrets. And today when I look back on everything that I’ve done, I have no regrets. I did things that I actually wanted to. If I didn’t do this in front of my reflection and my conscience, I would have regrets about the films I’ve made and I would think I wasted my life.”
For Jafar Panahi, revealing social problems and taking a moral stand is one and the same with doing what satisfies him. More than anything, he can say that he has not wasted a moment of his life, because he has stayed true to his calling as the type of filmmaker he wants to be, and he has risked everything to uphold these standards that he has set for himself. He has valiantly preserved every ounce of integrity that he has as an artist.
In one instance of the film, Panahi recalls a conversation he once had with an interrogating officer who claimed that Panahi’s camera is “more dangerous than any weapon or bomb.” The government and their oppressive forces, for decades have violently censored Iranian filmmakers and artists — and this has never been as relevant as it is today, when in midst the current revolution, countless filmmakers, singers, rappers, and other artists are imprisoned and face the possibility of execution, for expressing themselves and bringing to light the injustices inflicted upon society by the oppressive regime. Alluding to this notion of the regime’s fear of his films, Panahi explains:
“The director who works on social issues, where does he get his ideas from? What is the origin of his stories? — From the society he lives in.”
With the filmmaking ban he was given, the regime tried to silence Panahi by taking him away from society — to suppress his voice — but that only changed the “main subject” of his films. Rather than his camera being pointed at society; due to his ban, Panahi’s camera turned onto himself. He had to become the new subject of his work — to reflect the truth in his “current situation.” So, the nature of his post-ban films are not by choice, but of necessity — a product of the situation he’s been put in.
If you ever need to be reminded why cinema matters — watch a Jafar Panahi film.
If you ever need to be reminded that artists are powerful, and art, an effective weapon for revealing social truths and inciting consciousness and a desire for social change — watch a Jafar Panahi film.
And if you ever need to be reminded what cinema is truly capable of, why it’s here, and what it can be used to achieve — watch a Jafar Panahi film.
The world needs more filmmakers and artists with the mind, the heart, the honesty, and the courage of Mr. Jafar Panahi — a master of humanist cinema.
PS: The final few minutes are an incredible homage to Kiarostami, whose grave they spend the film’s runtime driving to. From when Panahi makes the remark about how Kiarostami loved twisted roads, and that it’s only fitting that the road they must take to his grave is twisted; to the final image that pays homage to Kiarostami’s truth-seeking masterpiece, Close-Up (1990) — Panahiendshis truth-seeking self-portrait perfectly.
Watch this film, here.
Free Jafar Panahi 💚🤍❤️
MY RATING /5:
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