This much lauded slice-of-life movie stars exiled Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi as he poses as a taxi driver in Tehran, in a series of portraits of everyday characters hiring his driving services. After making several robust realist dramas about the challenges of everyday life in his country, among them The Circle, Crimson Gold and the exuberantly angry football movie, Offside, Panahi fell foul of the Iranian government, which threatened him with imprisonment, prevented him from travelling and banned him from making films for 20 years.
For this spare, witty exercise, Panahi rigged a taxi with three hidden video cameras and surreptitiously filmed a drive round Tehran, with himself at the wheel ferrying assorted passengers, presumably actors for the most part. One assumes that everything is staged; such is the feel of brisk spontaneity that it’s hard to tell. As passengers come and go, the most telling section involves Panahi’s young niece Hana (played by herself), an aspiring film-maker in her own right. Her schoolteacher wants her to shoot something ‘distributable’, but in Iran that involves certain criteria, including the avoidance of ‘sordid realism’, something she comes face to face with in the film.
Panahi has made a work of invention and brio that remains visually lively throughout, despite its formal restrictions. There are no end titles. Panahi has recently had to be cautious about crediting collaborators, for their own safety, but this time he notes, in a sardonically piquant closing caption, that he can’t name anyone because Iran’s ministry of culture and Islamic guidance only approves the credits of distributable films.
The film won the Golden Bear, for bravery, at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival.
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Venue: William Loveless Hall