Gilbey on Film: the courage of Jafar Panahi

Iranian film-maker is imprisoned by the regime in Tehran.

It was already shaping up to be a bad year for democracy, cinema and one film-maker in particular – Jafar Panahi, the 50-year-old Iranian director of, among others, The White Balloon (1995), The Circle (2000), Crimson Gold (2003) and Offside (2006). Panahi, you will recall, was arrested and imprisoned in Iran on 1 March, along with his wife and daughter, in an attempt to subdue advocates of the opposition Green movement. This followed the decision to refuse him permission to participate in a forum on Iranian cinema at this year's Berlin Film Festival.

Panahi was released on bail on 25 May, but has now been slapped with a six-year prison sentence for "assembly and colluding with the intention to commit crimes against the country's national security and propaganda against the Islamic Republic". To add the mightiest of insults to this injury, Panahi has also been banned from making films, writing screenplays, giving interviews, or leaving Iran for 20 years. I find it bizarrely difficult to comprehend this. I don't know anything about Iranian law and its precedents, so I can't comment on the likelihood of this ever being overturned, but the announcement chills the blood.

I have no doubt that this will prompt protest and opposition from the same international film-makers and actors who opposed Panahi's imprisonment earlier this year – his numerous supporters then included Robert De Niro, Juliette Binoche, Michael Moore, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg.

The least that anyone in the industry can do is to keep Panahi's name at the forefront of public discourse and to refuse to let his plight fade from view; we're coming into awards season now, and it would be a pity if the media exposure that goes along with this self-congratulatory sideshow were not put to some positive use for once. Would it be too much to hope that anyone collecting a Bafta, an Oscar, a Golden Globe or even a Razzie might use the occasion to advertise their solidarity with Panahi?

(Although, before we let any self-righteousness creep into our indignation, we should remember that the west doesn't have a spotless record in hospitality towards this most beleaguered film-maker. Panahi has had his share of mistreatment in the west: he was once kept shackled in a cell at JFK Airport by US immigration after refusing to be photographed and fingerprinted.)

The White Balloon, Panahi's gentlest but, to my mind, most enduring film, is not available on DVD in the UK. But you can watch it here in eight parts.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

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Upon Remembering Westminster Bridge

"Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie, Open unto the fields, and to the sky" - things to help remember the best of Westminster Bridge.

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by,
 A sight so touching in its majesty:
This city now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning: silent, bare ...

When I think of Westminster Bridge, I always think of these lines by Wordsworth. But whenever I turn on the news this week, the thought of them makes my chest seize. Other images come to mind instead.

On Wednesday 22nd March, the bridge turned into a death trap. An assailant driving a rented car drove up onto the pavement and straight into the path of passersbys. Four of those people are now dead. Tens of others are severely injured. 

The two associations now sit alongside each other in a grotesque marriage. 

But as those present become able to share what they saw and felt, we will likely learn more about the acts of compassion that unfolded in the minutes and hours after the attack.

The bridge itself is also becoming a site for remembrance. And just as laying flowers can become marks of defiance against an act nobody wanted or condones, so too can memories. Not memories of horror stumbled upon on social media. But of the brave actions of police and paramedics, of the lives the victims led, and of Westminster's "mighty heart" that these events have so entirely failed to crush.

So if you find yourself upon the bridge in coming weeks, perhaps commuting to work or showing visitors round the city, here are some other thoughts had upon Westminster Bridge which no man in an estate car will ever take away:

Tourists taking photos with friends:


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The end of the film Pride - and the 1985 march on which it is based

 

Virginia Woolf and Mrs Dalloway’s “moment in June”

One feels even in the midst of the traffic, or waking at night, Clarissa was positive, a particular hush, or solemnity; an indescribable pause; a suspense before Big Ben strikes. There! Out it boomed. First a warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. Such fools we are, she thought, crossing Victoria Street. For Heaven only knows why one loves it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh; but the veriest frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps (drink their downfall) do the same; can't be dealt with, she felt positive, by Acts of Parliament for that very reason: they love life. In people's eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment in June.

 

Brilliant Boudicca guarding the bridge's Northern end


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Penis Shadows! (I say no more)

 

 

Sci-fi scenes from 28 Days Later

 

The “Build Bridges Not Walls” protest from January this year


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And “Upon Westminster Bridge” by William Wordsworth (1802)

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear

The beauty of the morning: silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.

Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!

The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.