When veteran, Iranian filmmaker, Jafar Panahi was jailed in 2010 and banned from making films this made him even more determined to carry on doing just that. In this time he has made not one but three movies, the most recent being Tehran Taxi. This one sees fiction dressed up as a documentary and it won the Golden Bear at the Berlinale. While it’s no perfect film and it does require a suspension of disbelief at times, it is a testament to creative expression and innovation.
Panahi is the writer, director and star of this piece. He plays a taxi driver that is disguised and riding through the streets of Tehran (in some ways the plot, staged reality and minimalist approach are similar to Abbas Kiarostami’s Ten). Along the way Panahi meets some very colourful characters who discuss topics that range from the frivolous to those that are more substantial and meaningful.
A teacher and a “freelancer” (read: thief) discuss whether capital punishment is an appropriate crime for theft. Two old superstitious women show how determined they are to release two fish into a spring at noon to escape death while a film school student asks for some advice for ideas when everything seems to have been done before. A man who bootlegs DVDs tries to justify his trade because without him “There would be no Woody Allen (in Iran)”.
A lawyer also features in this cab but it is Panahi’s niece who steals the show. She goes through the strict rules that her teacher has set for her school film project. It actually echoes the Iranian government’s sentiments on adhering to the Islamic Republic’s standards of good taste. The irony that Panahi has been punished for making films that don’t necessarily fit this mould is not lost here.
Tehran Taxi is an amiable enough film with Panahi mostly being good-natured and staying relatively quiet (his most explosive comment is when he thinks he hears his interrogator off in the distance). This guerrilla filmmaking takes place in simulated real-time and the lines are blurred between fiction and real-life interviews depicting a virtual reality. The result is an energetic film showing a humanistic take on life in Iran. It is mischievous and crafty and it makes you think about bigger issues than some private exchanges held in the backseat of a cab. Panahi therefore excels as the driver of this film and remains a determined and entertaining storyteller who can offer moments of breezy and light comedic episodes and others that depict real melodrama. It’s great.
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Tehran Taxi played at Sydney Film Festival on June 8 and 9. It plays again on June 11 and 17. For more information and tickets please click HERE