I hope Panahi isn’t punished for this film…and he easily could be

by Martin Hafer

Jafar Panahi is an Iranian filmmaker who has made some very interesting films, such as The Mirror.  However, despite his films seeming to be very slight, enjoyable and rather apolitical, he’s gotten into trouble with his government.  He was arrested back in 2010 and no specific charges were forthcoming for some time.  In the meantime, filmmakers from all over the world pressed for his release.  Eventually he was released but the government also said that he “was making a film against the regime and it was about the events that followed the [2009] election” and that was why he was detained.  Because of these vague charges, Panahi has been banned from filmmaking for 20 years.  But, Panahi has continued to fight this and made This Is Not a Film (2011) and Taxi (2015) while under this ban.  These projects were smuggled out of Iran and have been shown in the West…and the exact consequences to Panahi are uncertain.

As far as his latest film, Taxi, is concerned it’s an extremely strange project–so strange I really cannot rate it.  The film is completely untraditional and I’ve never seen anything like it.  The film looks like a documentary with no real actors, though the story is in fact a story and the folks participating are not unsuspecting members of the public.  In the film, Panahi plays himself and he’s inexplicably driving a taxi and using a dashcam to record his passengers.  The recordings are supposedly meant to illustrate some of the societal themes Iranians are struggling with and they supposedly talk without realizing they are being filmed.  Among the many themes you learn about is an underground cottage industry which illegally disseminates banned Western films, how the incredibly strict Sharia Law is impacting society negatively as well as the overall climate of suspicion and secrecy.  It’s all incredibly strange and looks a lot like a reality television show…albeit one set in Iran.

So did I love the film?  No…not really.  It is very interesting and thought-provoking but it also lacks the sort of narrative or style of a film.  There are no real opening or closing credits and it looks more like raw footage of Panahi and his passengers was simply smuggled out of the country.  Because of this, you cannot rightfully give the film a score such as an A, B or C…it’s more a piece of art that also has the ability to place the viewer into the cab along with these people to glean little snippets of their lives and their concerns.  Intriguing and out this week on Netflix.