A welcome innovation, a ‘Tuesday Wonder’ being repeated on a Thursday. And this is a film to see or see again. This is a distinctive film in so many ways; for starters the entire production crew consists the Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi: with the exception of Massoumeh Lahidji, who prepared the French sub-titled version: [the alternative title appears to be to avoid confusion with the earlier films of that title] .
The film, like at least two earlier Iranian films, is set in a taxi circling Teheran. The driver is Jafar Panahi and sited on the dashboard is a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. There is a some additional footage shot on cell phones. The rest of the cast are non-professionals, unidentified to protect the innocent. The car, a friend informed me, is a Peugeot 405, built under licence in Iran.
What we see and hear, along with Panahi, are a man who works as a free lancer [fairly conservative] and a woman teacher [liberal]: a man injured in an accident and his wife: there is a man who distribute videos, some at least illegal: two women carrying a gold fish to a well/shrine: Panahi’s niece, who is also making a film: an old school friend who has a story of his troubles: and a lady with flowers who is a suspended lawyer. Some of them recognise Panahi, some apparently do not. There are also, outside the car, a fruit seller, a CD seller, various passers-by, medical staff, and [finally] two black clad men on a motorcycle. Most of the characters in the car talk as only Iranians can talk.
The film is fascinating, witty and deeply subversive. It offers a rich mine of stories, observations, complaints and the varied tapestry of Iranian urban life. The ending, following the appearance of the motorcycle, is very smart.
Of course, Panahi has form. He is currently suspended from filmmaking, but managed the equally impressive This is Not a Film (2011). This time his latest film won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival: few film awards carry greater kudos.
Panahi has had a long and productive career. This film references a number of his earlier films. The ones I picked up were Offside (2006), Crimson Gold (2003), The Circle (2002) and The White Balloon (1995). The latter includes another recurring Iranian motif, gold fish.
Reviews tend to pick up on the way that Panahi has subverted the repressive and very conservative regime in Iran. But equally the film gives testimony to the rich variety of Iranian culture, including a long tradition of quality films. It says something about the dynamic qualities of this society [usually ignored by the West] that it can produce so many fine art works.