Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Jafar Panahi’s Taxi
filmmaker Jafar Panahi sort of brought the Taxicab
Confessions concept to Iran, but most of the sins that need atoning are
those of the Islamist government. The idea of Panahi working as a cabbie might
sound appalling, but it makes sense as a cover for his defiant underground
filmmaking. Cabs are a common sight on the streets of Tehran and they also have
the advantage of being a moving target. Frankly, nobody is really sure how
scripted it is, but each fare he picks up is significant in Jafar Panahi’s Taxi (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York at the IFC Center.
the third film Panahi has made since being banned from filmmaking, Taxi is quite an accomplishment just for
existing. Although his post-ban films are very self-referential by necessity, Panahi
has yet to repeat himself. In this case, he appears to be making a hidden camera
documentary about the average citizens who hail his cab, but some of the
dialogue is so on the nose calling out his situation and echoing his previous
films, it sounds suspiciously hybridized. Of course, on a more general level, the
film itself can easily be interpreted as an homage to Abbas Kiarostami’s
dash-cam taxi drama, Ten.
of Panahi’s “fares” recognize him, while some do not, but they all have
something to say. His first two unrelated fares (picking up multiple hails is a
standard practice in Tehran) argue about Sharia Law. She is appalled by the
public executions, but he seems to think they serve a constructive role
controlling society. His job? Mugger.
third ride-sharer avoids political arguments, eventually revealing himself to
be a bootleg hawker. Even Panahi has used his services in the past, because how
else would he see Once Upon a Time in
Anatolia? He is eager to sell the taxi-driving auteur on a sleazy “Panahi
Recommends” bootleg scheme, but the director will not bite. We take it Panahi
met plenty would-be exploiters of his ilk during his periods of house arrest.
However, things start to really get serious when Panahi is flagged by an
accident victim and his wife. During the brief trip to the hospital, they
desperately try to hash out some sort of legal arrangement that would not leave
her destitute should he die, since Iranian wives do not have inheritance rights
In This is Not a Film, Panahi’s
docu-essay capturing the frustration of his time serving the house arrest
sentence, he was somewhat upstaged by his pet iguana Igy. However, he never
stands a chance once his niece Hana steps in the cab. She has natural comic
timing and a flair for delivering dialogue with a mischievous twist. If her
scenes were extemporized than Heaven help her parents. Obviously, Panahi thinks
she is the bee’s knees, even when she is delivering the heaviest commentary of
the film. As part of a class assignment she is tasked with filming a “distributable”
film. However, her teacher has given her a long list of absurd restrictions.
Panahi knows them well.
like that risk coming across as rather didactic, but Panahi maintains a street-level
vitality that makes everything sound fresh and realistic. Beyond Hana, the
movie-star in the making, his entire cast of “participants” always keep the
film down-to-earth and the energy level cranked up. It would be nice to
associate names with our praise, but they remain deliberately unidentified, for
As one would expect, the reality of Panahi’s
situation is reflected in every minute of Taxi,
by the secretive nature of its production. Still, he does not force his points,
preferring to tease out a critique of current Iranian government and society
over time. It is a clever and engaging film that would screen well in dialogue
with Sanaz Azari’s criminally under-programmed I for Iran. Frustrating in its honesty, yet strangely satisfying for
its resiliency, Jafar Panahi’s Taxi is
very highly recommended for everyone who values free expression when it opens
this Friday (10/2) at the IFC Center.
Labels: Iranian Cinema, Jafar Panahi