WHO is he?

Iranian director, writer, producer and editor who has made seven feature-length films and numerous short films since the late Eighties. Panahi was arrested in 2010 for alleged propaganda against the current Iranian government and remains under arrest till date. His first film The White Balloon (1995) won the prestigious Camera D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and The Circle (2000) took the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festivals.

WHAT are his films about?

Themes

Jafar Panahi’s cinema exhibits a direct influence of Italian Neorealism and his films too engage with contemporary, social, political and moral problems. With ample humour and intelligence, they examine the status of women and ethnic minorities in a conservative society. Panahi assisted Abbas Kiarostami before starting out on his own and his movies too deal with the problems of Cinematic Realism. Like Kiarostami’s films, they probe whether absolute realism in film could be achieved or if it is only a chimera always out of reach of cinema.

Style

The style, too, of Panahi’s films is starkly reminiscent of that of Italian neorealism. These films extensively employ handheld cinematography — both a necessity and a conscious aesthetic choice. They are shot on location with natural light and sound. The actors are often non-professionals unaccustomed to mannered cinematic acting. The mise en scène — the physical elements of a scene — within a particular film regularly reinforce its themes visually.

WHY is he of interest?

Despite being under arrest for the last three years, Panahi has surreptitiously managed to make two films that have been widely lauded in the international film scene as being finest examples of art under duress. In a genuine sort of way, he remains an inspiration for authors around the world not willing to compromise their politics and seeking to criticise the state. Even without consideration of this political context, his work has been ranked as being among the finest of Iranian and international cinema.

WHERE to discover him?

Born in response to Iran’s ban on women entering football stadiums, Offside (2006) is a trenchant critique of the nation’s policies towards women. Panahi’s riveting film unfolds in real time, as we witness a group of women trying to enter a stadium illegally as a match is in progress. Accruing detail upon detail, the film presents an enrapturing, sympathetic yet non-reductive portrait of the gender politics in Iran.

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