Iranian director shows what can be done with one man and his iPhone in this poignant study

Cert: U

There aren’t many films made partially on an iPhone and smuggled into the Cannes Film Festival in a cake. Banned for 20 years from film-making and sentenced to 6 years in prison after supporting the opposition during the Iranian elections in 2009, this documentary follows renowned Iranian director Jafar Panahi (The Circle and Offside) as he goes about his daily life under house arrest.

Shot over the course of a particular day, first by himself with a camera set up on a tripod, and then by his close friend Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Panahi calls his lawyer, plays with his iguana, and attempts to re-enact the film he never got to make. But, in doing so, he hits a wall: “If we can tell a film, why make a film?” he asks, and instead decides to throw the director’s handbook out of the window.

He ends up creating a study of film itself, exploring the different ways in which a story can be told – whether his own screenplay, or the tiny, seemingly insignificant narratives of life. He begins a frustrated film-maker but, with the help of Mirtahmasb, the spark reignites and the effect is compelling in its simplicity and lightness.

As Iggy the Iguana slowly crawls behind the bookcase, so Panahi crawls behind his own, and our, ideas of art. He’s frustrated by his inability to convey truth through film so, as an experiment, the camera rolls even when he asks Mirtahmasb to cut, even when they both think nothing of interest is happening.

Slowly but surely, something is indeed happening. The numerous attempts to convey honesty are brought together the moment he throws the director’s handbook out the window and stops trying- beautiful narratives are to be found in life, in the unscripted. The neighbour’s yappy dog, the guy coming to take the trash and, subsequently, Panahi’s own overarching narrative.

And it’s a narrative of triumph because, despite the restrictions imposed upon by the law, and that of film-making itself, he has indeed successfully made a film that’s funny, touching, brave and, above all, truthful.