TAXI, drama, not rated, in Persian with subtitles, The Screen, 4 chiles
How do you thumb your nose at legal censorship without actually breaking any censorship laws? Just ask Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, whose award-winning Taxi is a quiet but empowering film shot entirely inside a moving cab. Panahi used no studio, no film equipment, and no crew in making the film. His tactics in shooting Taxi and previous films enabled him to defy the censors without seeming to, openly filming a movie (his third since being legally barred from the profession by the Iranian government in 2010) on the streets of Tehran — a bold move.
Panahi, who stars in the film, shot Taxi on a dashboard camera. He drives the streets of Tehran picking up passengers. The dialogue feels spontaneous, and the cast is uncredited. Panahi engages them in conversation, playing a fictionalized but not very well-disguised version of himself. Several passengers recognize him and refer to him by name — not surprising, as Panahi is among Iran’s most well-known filmmakers. One passenger, Panahi’s niece Hana, is making a short film for school and has a list of guidelines that comply with the censors’ rules. Hana’s is one of several segments that reference films and filmmaking. Throughout, passengers show Panahi videos shot on their cellphones. One woman, cradling the head of her dying husband, an accident victim, asks Panahi to use her phone to record her husband’s dying moments. The prevalence of smartphones and video apps, which Panahi exploits in Taxi, makes explicit the futility of censorship. Anyone with a smartphone camera has the technical ability to make a film like Taxi. (Following his 2010 arrest for anti-Iranian propaganda, Panahi’s next effort was This Is Not a
Film , a feature shot primarily on a mobile phone. For its Cannes premiere, it was smuggled out of Iran on a flash drive hidden in a cake.)
Panahi’s passengers represent a cross-section of Iran: They are young, old, and from a variety of classes and professions. One is a vendor of pirated videos, and Panahi, apparently, is a former customer. The director uses such instances for self-referential critiques of government intrusion into the arts and the day-to-day lives of Iranian citizens.
Taxi is an engaging and humorous film. As a cabdriver, Panahi has a lot to learn. He hasn’t mastered the streets of Tehran and gets disoriented, doesn’t always bring his passengers fully to their destinations, and sometimes forgets to collect the fare. But its real story comes in the subtext. An uncredited Panahi served as director, editor, sound editor, producer, and cinematographer. That Panahi had to remove his own name from the project is a frightening and absurd reflection on the state of filmmaking in Iran. — Michael Abatemarco
No Latka here: Jafar Panahi