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New Release Review - TAXI TEHRAN

Jafar Panahi's latest middle finger to the Iranian authorities who banned him from filmmaking.


Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Jafar Panahi

Starring:
 Jafar Panahi




"Panahi packs an awful lot into his movie - satire, pathos, charm, discontent and bubbling rage. If it means we get more movies like Taxi Tehran, perhaps more filmmakers should have such restrictions placed upon their craft. Keep the meter running Jafar!"





Despite being the victim of a ban on filmmaking imposed by his government, Iranian auteur Jafar Panahi has made three films under these restrictions: the semi-documentary This Is Not a Film, this year's Closed Curtain, which was half a film, and now Taxi Tehran (aka Taxi), which is very much a film, spinning a series of short vignettes like an old horror anthology movie, the horror here lurking outside the titular vehicle, in the form of the lunacy of Iran's religiously fuelled system of laws and rules.
Panahi found a loophole in his ban that allows him to shoot a movie in the confines of a car, and this gives him a lot more creative freedom than you might at first imagine. Along with filming inside the car, here a Tehran taxi commandeered by Panahi himself, he can also shoot the outside world through the windows. It gives new meaning to the phrase 'drive-in movie'.
Portrayed by a bunch of professional and amateur actors, and friends of the director, is a roster of characters plucked from the Iranian capital's sidewalks by Panahi in his new role of cabbie. With no credits (another way of Panahi covering his tracks) to help us out, it's unclear which passengers are professional thespians and which are real life figures, but all are thoroughly engaging. First up is a silver chain sporting macho man who argues the merits of capital punishment with a teacher. It's the type of conversation you might find in a taxi anywhere in the world, but in a country that executes as many people as Iran does, it takes on a sinister undertone.
Next up is a DVD pirate, who claims to have sold Panahi dodgy copies of Once Upon a Time in Anatolia and Midnight in Paris, a transaction which the embarrassed director claims ignorance of (Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Woody Allen may want to bill Panahi). The pirate offers Panahi a business partnership, seeing the director as a fellow enemy of the state, both men flouting the law to bring cinema to the people. Further visitors to Panahi's taxi include a dying, bloodied man, staining the backseat red like Tim Roth in Reservoir Dogs, and in an absurdist nod to The Wages of Fear, a pair of old dears carrying goldfish in a precarious bowl. Panahi's precocious niece rides along for a good stretch, and like her uncle, she too is a filmmaker struggling with rules, those imposed by her film class teacher. Rounding it off are a crime victim and a disbarred civil rights lawyer, who in a touching moment spots Panahi's hidden camera and offers a rose to 'the people of cinema'.
The elephant in the front seat is Panahi, who is a terrible actor, but his excitement at defying his nonsensical ban and his love of filmmaking are palpable, a grin plastered on his affable face throughout. At a mere 80 minutes, Panahi packs an awful lot into his movie - satire, pathos, charm, discontent and bubbling rage. If it means we get more movies like Taxi Tehran, perhaps more filmmakers should have such restrictions placed upon their craft. Keep the meter running Jafar!



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