Turning the camera upon himself for the third time, Jafar Panahi’s Taxi Tehran is a moving portrait of the politics of filming and the filming of politics.
The Motorcar Diariesby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
While no longer under house arrest, Jafar Panahi’s struggles to make a film continue. And after the (understandably) melancholic huis clos of This Is Not A Film and Closed Curtain, Panahi brings an upbeat lightheartedness to his latest film Taxi. Which isn’t to say Taxi Tehran is devoid of politics – we’re thrust from the very start as he picks up his first two passengers into debates on executions under Sharia Law and male-female relations. But more than the politics of modern Iran, Taxi is a playful portrait of the role film plays in daily life – from the pirated copies of Hollywood blockbusters (and arthouse sleepers) sold by Omid to the last will and testament of a man nearly killed in a motorcycle accident recorded on an iPhone or the wedding videos and film projects that pepper the film. It’s a curious, unfathomable mix of staged events and documentary interviews – a purposeful blurring of fiction and reality. But it’s also a playful discussion of the impossibility of filmmaking in Iran – negotiating the requirements of a “distributable” film; foremost a male hero complete with tie, Iranian name and preferably a beard, as well as avoiding sex, violence, political commentary and “sordid realism”. It’s perhaps not new in Iranian cinema, drawing direct comparison with Abbas Kiarostami’s car-bound Ten, but Panahi’s film doesn’t even hope for state approval – with a finale in which he stages the theft of his video recorder’s memory card by government goons. Even the swivelling of his camera takes on a political resonance as he fights against an invisible combatant for control of the gaze. And with Panahi’s injection of humour and his unique constellation of ideas, Taxi Tehran is a refreshing return to form and the busy streets of Teheran.
Taxi Tehran was shown at the 65th Berlin Film Festival (winner of the Golden Bear) and is now showing at the 59th London Film Festival