Published Oct 01, 2015Arrested and banned from filmmaking for allegedly creating anti-government propaganda, Jafar Panahi's Taxi sees Panahi posing as a taxi driver on streets of Tehran, picking up a variety of passengers (played by a series of incredibly convincing uncredited amateur actors) in his funny, poignant mockumentary that stands as a testament to the resilience of everyday Iranians.
The film invests us in the dramas of these characters, crafting brief vignettes inside the confines of a cab, as strangers are forced to interact with fellow passengers. Complete opposites and oddballs abound: a brash, obnoxious criminal argues with a patient schoolteacher, while an illegal DVD distributor shares a backseat with two little old ladies with goldfish bowls.
The film adeptly depicts how the larger injustices of Iranian law as well as the small rebellions against it conducted by everyday citizens, some of whom recognize Panahi but don't question why he's become a taxi driver, even as they suspect he may be making another film. The patient schoolteacher persistently and eloquently expresses her opinion that Iran executes too many criminals; a husband, delirious after a bicycle accident, defies Sharia law by insisting Panahi record him dictating his will, in which he wants to leave everything to his wife. (Incidentally, this is one of the film's funniest scenes in a film full of dark humour. This man isn't really dying, he's simply scared and caught in the melodrama of the moment.)
Panahi's precocious, charming real-life niece Hana (Hana Saeidi) expresses confusion over why the film project she is working on for school needs to be so restrictive. Above all, they have to avoid depicting a "sordid reality," which Panahi defines to Hana as "truths they don't want to see" — truths Panahi himself has been revealing for years.
The conversations on film and filmmaking in Taxi are quietly moving, featuring easy and spirited debates on Hollywood blockbusters versus art house cinema, the real need for the underground DVD market for Iranian film buffs and the state of the restrictive film industry in general. It also expresses the great optimism of future filmmakers, some of whom may also go on to defy the powers that be.
"Which are worth watching?" asks a young film student of Panahi on what illegal DVDs he should purchase. Panahi responds that "All movies are worth watching." It's both a worthy ethos and an admirable middle finger to a system that disagrees.