Over the past few months, a director whose work I’ve really gotten into is Jafar Panahi. His films in the past were great but from 2010 his films have taken a different turn. For those who don’t know, Panahi was arrested then and banned from making films for 20 years. That hasn’t stopped him though. Since then he’s already released the amazing This Is Not A Film and Close Circuit, both filmed indoors in complete secrecy and smuggled out of the country. His most recent film, Taxi Tehran, is the most ambitious film he’s done since his arrest and his most risky. Instead of filming it indoors, he took to the streets of Tehran. Every single time he started filming was dangerous but all of the risk paid off. This is a brilliant film and probably Panahi’s best film since Offside.
The film focuses on Panahi who, to get around the limitations placed on him, is posing as a taxi driver with hidden cameras all around the taxi to record the conversations he has with his passengers. For anyone else this would be a fairly standard set up but for Panahi it is revolutionary. The conversations that Panahi records in his taxi are incredibly compelling, focusing on a range of issues for the social, political, cultural and economic life in modern day Iran. Out of these conversations, two key themes start to emerge. The first is the repression of culture in Iran. One of the passengers Panahi picks up is a film rebter, illegally bringing foreign film so, mainly American films and TV shows, into Iran. This also comes through with a conversation Oanahi has with his Bruce regarding a film she has been asked to make for school and the requirements that it needs to meet in order to be screenable, including that it cannot highlight the negative side of life in Iran. This repression also goes to other sides of life, including a bunch of women being arrested for attending a volleyball games, with it being mentioned by the people in the taxi how similar it is to the plot of Offside. He other key theme that comes up is that people have to turn to crime in order to make ends meat, but the film doesn’t really take moral judge mental, noting that whilst what the people are doing is wrong, there is no other way for them to make money and, in some cases, the crime has allowe people to better their lives by giving them a bit of a boost.
Panahi also highlights the danger he is constantly in through making the film, mainly seen at the end of the film, after he picks up a lawyer friend of his who was also arrested. They both talk about their experiences in prison and being interrogated and how the interrogations have instilled a sense of fear into them over being followed, fearing that they will be put back into prison at any time for any reason. This all comes to a head at the very end, with an incredibly harrowing final shot showing just how revolutionary Panahi is being making this film.
This also extends to the cast of the film outside of Panahi, who is incredibly likeable and brilliant shows the put upon nature of him in his situation and his fear of arrest whilst also showing some naivety and a bit of a selfish streak making him incredibly human. Whilst the rest of the cast is excellent their identities have had to be hidden in order to protect them from reprisal by the Iranian government, which goes back to the original idea of the film which was to film random people, which would have been a lot more dangerous a. The decision here was made by Panahi to use non-professional actors who were willing to risk arrest if their names were ever revealed.
The cast also highlights one of the main factors that makes the film so good, that being its humour. This is an incredibly funny film, mainly in an incredibly dark way, with the dry delivery of the dark humour about the situation of people in Iran making this feel like a more accurate depiction of life in Tehran.
The technical side of the film also highlighted the changes in filmmaking that have allowed Panahi to make this film in the first place. The ready availability of fairly high quality digital cameras and smaller cameras allow secret filming to be undertake and without this Panahi would not have been able to make this film, with this adding to the tone of the film, again at the end showing how important it was to film in secret.
Overall Taxi Tegran is one of the most important and revolutionary films to be released this year. This is a great look at social life in Iran with the dark humour adding to the realism of the film and the sheer skill it took for Panahi to make this film on the streets of Tehran and not get caught and get the film smuggled out of the country is admirable. This film shows the true power of cinema as an art form and its power to change the perception of a country and make changes in the world.
My Rating: 5/5