Road war­rior

TAXI, drama, not rated, in Per­sian with sub­ti­tles, The Screen, 4 chiles

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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 [2011], 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

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