Director: Jafar Panahi
Rating: 8 out of 10
There’s a small moment in Jafar Panahi’s newest film, where the filmmaker’s niece tries to make a movie from his phone. She’s in a taxi cab by herself and begins to shoot a small boy who takes some money off of the street. She calls the boy over and tells him to put the money back, for her movie due in class needs to follow Iranian censorship laws. Since the boy has broken these laws, she can’t release the movie. While the boy has had nothing to do with the film, he’s still asked to change his actions and attitude for government reasons. Like any viewer of film in Iran, they’re forced to conform unconsciously to the banning of certain art. Everyone is expected to follow this, for the sake of decency. The public, the boy, and Panahi himself, all must conform.
Jafar Panahi has been banned from making films for a 20-year period and sentenced to house arrest by the Iranian government. Since this ruling in 2011, Panahi has made two other features, the in-house documentary This Is Not A Film and the semi-surreal Closed Curtain. I’ve only seen the latter of the two and wasn’t terribly impressed. It came off as a tad bit whiny, understandably so at the horribly treatment Panahi has received over the years. but never evolved past that point. A creative struggle of artistic expression versus depressive thoughts consumed that work, though it’s biggest shortcoming was only having Panahi ‘s suffering shown. In Taxi, the camera focuses less on the director and expands it’s horizons. Oddly enough, it achieves all of this by not moving outside of a taxi cab.
The films stars Panahi as himself, a passive observer to modern day Iran. He drives around the city’s capital of Tehran in an aforementioned taxi cab, and picks up seemingly random strangers. The film’s shot in a somewhat documentary style, with emphasis placed on action being seen though a camera placed in the front of the taxi. (How many of his encounters are true to life is hard to figure out. A handful of encounters are too incredible to actually happen randomly and some angles are obviously taken without the cab’s monitor camera. If all or none of these events are true doesn’t really matter in the end.) With each person he picks up, discussions of government brutality, sexism, religion, and moral rightness take place. All of a sudden, Panahi’s biggest weakness has been reversed. No longer are we only concerned with him, but Tehran’s population as a whole.
The film transcends the limitations of not only the Iranian government, but of basic filmmaking. So many ideas, stories, and snapshots enter and exit the taxi, with the camera never leaving the vehicle. One of the residents is a film student, who asks Panahi what films he enjoys and what’s good cinema. The response: “Everything is worth watching.” Panahi takes all people into account, understanding their needs above any idea of what’s filmable. Everyone deserves to be represented. Everyone matters in the creation of art. That’s what the Iranian government will never be able to stop: the need and want to create beyond any boundary.
It becomes a bit more preachy by the end, and I’m not certain by that point a full on discussion of “the truth” had to be spoken. By this point, the audience realizes that the truth comes through art and the government will do anything to repress that. It’s a small complaint from a miraculous film however. It’s a love letter to cinema, the truth, people’s ability to create, and how all three can intertwine beautifully.