A Sea of Salted Wounds – A Love for Panahi

Rasoulof’s tortured artist in White Meadows, 2009

I wrote this post more than a decade ago, and it sat in DRAFTS, yet the update in the last sentence could not be more apt for today:

“I was a guest on BBC3 recently. reviewing two well-paired and timely films, and a play.

The film makers responsible for This Is Not A Film – Rasoulof and Panahi – are both sentenced to six years in jail for creating and colluding in gathering propaganda against the regime. But film makers all over the world always make films about the ills of their society. Perhaps the ministry ought to sit down to 24 hours of modern Western art-house for some perspective? It’s just a sign of our times.

Meanwhile Ashghar Farhadi, director of the much-lauded film A Separation, has spoken out for Panahi, whom many regard as one of the fathers of modern Iranian cinema. On top of the 6 year sentence the sentencers saw fit to charge him with a 20 year ban on not just film-making, but script writing and attending film festivals or giving interviews both inside and outside of Iran. He can appeal this, but what This is Not a Film shows us is the terrible anxiety of the film maker who is silenced, it is as good as a gelding, there is no peace. For most the painful need of a born creative is not something those born without the drive can empathise fully with. Panahi said of the film maker’s creative drive:

When a film maker does not make films it is as if he is jailed. Even when freed from the small jail he finds himself wandering in a larger jail.” 

In the most memorable and searing scene pictured above, an artist who has been painting the sea red, is forced atop a ladder into the glaring hot sun, his eyes forcibly filled with salt by those who feel his art is a subversion: the sea is blue, he must paint it as blue. He cannot say it is red, art has no license over the hard metal of facts.

See “The white balloon” directed by Jafar Panahi online.

At the time of writing, Iran’s film industry and beyond are very proud of A Separation which one a Golden Bear for best film in Berlin, and was nominated on two counts for an Oscar his year. Yet Panahi in the past has won the Camera D’Or for White Balloon in Cannes, and the Golden Lion in Venice for The Circle and more.  The divorce, the deceit and the malaise in A Separation are just as clearly a reflection of social ills in Iran under this regime as any of the great Panahi’s films. See one of his works and weep for an innocence lost, and strength maintained despite all attempts to eradicate it.” Since then I managed to screen 2010, Panahi’s illegally smuggled film made under house arrest in his apartment (This is not a Film, 2011), at The National Portrait Gallery for a Norooz event we put on. It hadn’t been seen yet. The screening was free. I was upstairs Djing but they told me the entire room stood up and applauded it.  This is why we do these things no one pays me!  Now again since the Iran Revolution of 2022, Panahi has spoken up and his latest film, which translated poetically as “Bears Do Not Exist” is a wonder to behold.

Side note: I also programmed a talk on Norooz but pre-empted it with my own intro about how apt it was to host this event in the BP-Sponsored National Portrait Gallery, London seeing as BP used to be called the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and is the root cause of the unrest we face today. The deposition of the last democratically elected leader of Iran, Mossadegh in the 1950s, was foiled by USA and UK and the BBC in a plot to maintain their profits. This is open access knowledge now, published by the CIA.  (OK I didn’t say that very last part!)