The Movie Waffler New to MUBI - 3 FACES | The Movie Waffler

New to MUBI - 3 FACES

3 faces review
A filmmaker and actress travel to a remote village after receiving a disturbing video.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Jafar Panahi

Starring: Behnaz Jafari, Jafar Panahi, Marziyeh Rezaei, Maedeh Erteghaei, Narges Delaram

3 faces film poster

(This review was written in 2019. Jafar Panahi is currently serving a six-year sentence. A petition to protest his arrest can be signed here.)

If the Iranian regime is as oppressive as our western media constantly tells us, they're doing a terrible job of being oppressive in one particular case. Filmmaker Jafar Panahi has been subjected to house arrest and a 20-year filmmaking ban since 2010, yet in that time has managed to make no less than four movies, flouting his creative restrictions in a manner that has seen him enter arguably the most fruitful phase of his career.

As with his previous film, the thrilling Taxi Tehran, 3 Faces sees Panahi star as himself, as does the Iranian actress Behnaz Jafari. The movie opens with a chilling piece of found footage in which a young girl, Marziyeh (Marziyeh Rezaei), claims she has sent videos to Jafari pleading for her help in convincing her conservative family that she be allowed attend an acting conservatory in Tehran. The video ends with what appears to be the girl's suicide by hanging.

3 faces review

Racked with guilt and confusion, Jafari convinces Panahi to drive her to the girl's village in the rural NorthWest of Iran, the region where Panahi himself grew up. They theorise that Marziyeh's parents and her wider community may have covered up her suicide to avoid bringing disgrace on the village, but once they arrive, finding the locals in cheery form and delighted to have a famous movie star in their midst, it becomes clear they've been duped.

3 Faces is an astute examination of the sort of cultural divides that increasingly split countries in two. It may be set in Iran and deal with the conflict between those who support the patriarchal Islamic regime and those of a more liberal bent, but it could easily be remade to tackle the divisions caused by Brexit in the UK or by Trump's election in the US.

3 faces review

Panahi is one of the most sensitive and human filmmakers working today, and he approaches his subject with none of the self-righteous rage and contempt you might expect from the average western filmmaker, and which he would be excused given his situation. Despite their regressive views, the villagers are presented as a loveable lot, friendly and accommodating to their guests in a way more progressive minded city slickers rarely are. 3 Faces is a great movie about how good people can hold bad views, and how conversely those with unimpeachable ethics can be contemptuous of their fellow man.

Panahi and Jafari don't portray themselves as progressive knights in shining armour come to enlighten the dullards of rural Iran with their big city notions. In their screen guises they have a stand-offish attitude to the bumpkins who attempt to ingratiate themselves with them, and at one point Panahi allows himself to become the butt of locals' jokes about how rude he is for not accepting their hospitality. Jafari too looks down on the locals, clearly uncomfortable in their presence. You certainly can't accuse Panahi and Jafari of possessing a saviour complex. Can you imagine how insufferable this movie would be if it were made by Hollywood liberals?

3 faces review

If you've ever found yourself enjoying a great conversation with a stranger while all too aware that it would take a disagreeable turn should the subjects of politics or religion arise, you'll find much comfort in 3 Faces. There's a wonderful moment in which an old man presents Jafari with his son's circumcised foreskin and asks her to present it to a former matinee idol whom he considers "the most virile man in Iran." What he doesn't realise is that the actor in question fled Iran during the Islamic revolution and has been unable to return since. When the old man asks Jafari why this is, and why Panahi can't leave Iran, the previously affable dialogue hits a bump in the road, Jafari excusing herself, unable to find the words that might satisfy the old man's ignorance without compromising her own views.

A movie about the tragedy of being unable to fully embrace the people you share a society and nation with sounds like a melancholy slog, but 3 Faces is far from it. It's essentially a comedy of the Capra/Sturges school, and with its roster of oddball characters it has something of David Byrne's True Stories about it. A recurring motif is a system the villagers have developed to avoid trouble on the winding mountain road that leads into their hamlet. This system involves a complicated language of car horn honks to inform the driver on the other side of the mountain of your presence and intentions. "Couldn't you just widen the road?" asks Jafari. "But we have a system," is the reply from a bemused local. If Panahi's latest film makes one thing clear, it's that ignorance is what happens when nobody asks uncomfortable questions.

3 Faces is on MUBI UK now.