Two Iranian-directed films have made it onto the list of the top 100 movies of the decade compiled by IndieWire, an online magazine covering film and TV. The 2010 film Certified Copy directed by Abbas Kiarostami was third on the list, while the 2011 documentary This Is Not a Film by Jafar Panahi came in at number 30.
Certified Copy revolves around the authenticity of a relationship between a British writer and a French antiques dealer. Set in Tuscany, the film explores love, reality and originality in a “house of mirrors for the ages that invites you to get lost in its halls time and time again.” Starring French actress Juliette Binoche and British opera singer William Shimell, the film premiered at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival where Binoche’s performance won her the Best Actress Award.
This film was the first one that Kiarostami shot outside of Iran and was his penultimate film before he passed away in 2016. As was one of the few directors to stay in Iran after the 1979 revolution, he considered it to be an important decision for his national identity and his art: “When you take a tree that is rooted in the ground, and transfer it from one place to another, the tree will no longer bear fruit,” he said. “And if it does, the fruit will not be as good as it was in its original place. This is a rule of nature. I think if I had left my country, I would be the same as the tree.”
Kiarostami’s art was deeply philosophical and dealt with the themes of life and death, and his cinematography often defied established norms. For example, he would remove contextual information from important scenes, leaving the audience to imagine the dialogue or the environment therein. He is greatly admired all around the world and was the recipient of a multitude of awards, including the 1997 Palme d’Or, the highest prize awarded at the Cannes Film Festival, as well as Japan’s 2013 Medal of Honour.
Iranian documentary This Is Not a Film was partly shot on an iPhone and depicts filmmaker Jafar Panahi’s life under house arrest. It was smuggled out of Iran on a USB flash drive inside a cake and shown at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival where the director won the Carrosse d’Or award.
Panahi is known for his criticism of the Iranian government, often showcased in his films. Because of this, in 2010 he was arrested and later charged with making propaganda against the government. He was sentenced to six years in prison and banned from directing any films for 20 years. This Is Not a Film was created while he was waiting for the results of an appeal against the sentence.
The international community came together in support of Panahi following his arrest, with high profile Hollywood figures such as Michael Moore and Steven Spielberg calling for his release in a joint letter. Various human rights organisations and film foundations also protested against Panahi’s sentence with petitions and campaigns.
The director was awarded for his efforts to protest against the government in Tehran. In April 2011, Time Magazine named Panahi as one of the Top 10 Persecuted Artists who challenged authority. He is also acclaimed for his filmography, only last year winning the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Screenplay and in 2015 winning the Golden Bear for best film at the Berlin International Film Festival.