Jafar Panahi (The Circle, Offside, This is not a Film) has a keen sense of humor as he seriously pursues his career as an activist filmmaker in Iran. In this production, he plants himself in a taxi equipped with a camera so he can film his fares. Now, this is a movie, not a documentary; so he has written a script for people (actors?) who get into his taxi to discuss the current state of affairs in Iran. This idea stems from his arrest in 2010 (along with his wife, daughter, and 15 friends), charged with propaganda against the Iranian government. He spent six years in jail, and was prohibited from filmmaking for twenty years. Never to be outdone, Panahi then made a film entitled This is not a Film (2011).
I delight in this artist’s sense of humor. In Taxi Tehran, along with the issue of filmmaking (cameras and phones are ubiquitous, I suppose as a commentary on technology being everywhere, even in Iran), Panahi has us consider the issue of thievery. One passenger argues vociferously with a woman in the back seat about whether someone who steals tires from a car should be put to death. He thinks they should be hanged; she argues that perhaps there were circumstances that should be taken into account. An old neighbor of Panahi gets in the car and relates how he was hit with a bat and robbed by a husband and wife. Turns out, he knows them, but can’t bear to bring charges against them because of their financial circumstances. The point: Should thieves’ circumstances be taken into account?
An extreme case of thievery prevention is a bloody fare and his wife after a bicycle accident needing to go to the hospital. The man is certain he is dying so insists on a camera to film him giving his last will and testament to prevent his brothers from making a claim on his estate. As sad as some of these sequences are, we still chuckle.
Another passenger is Panahi’s niece, Hana, a cheeky little girl he needs to pick up from school. She is attending a filmmaking class, so her camera is always by her side. This is one of the most entertaining sequences of the film for me partly because of her sincere sass, partly because of how he relates to her—with respect tinged with indulgence—but also her citing the rules her teacher has outlined for a “distributable” film, which she is trying to make (e.g., Respect the Islami headscarf, avoid violence, avoid “sordid realism”, etc.). When her uncle leaves her in the car to run an errand, she films out the car window and sees a boy picking up trash and also pick up some money a wedding groom has dropped on the street. She talks to the boy and tries to get him to return it—not on the basis of morality, but because she wants to make a “distributable” film! She argues with him about it, and he seems to be convinced, but then equivocates. How human!
Taxi Tehran continues on with the theme of thievery right to the end with the return of a purse left in the taxi and the (for the filmmaker) ultimate theft.
One has to admire Jafar Panahi’s creativity in responding to Iranian legislative absurdities. I see this as filmmaking at its best: A modern fairy tale with substance.
Grab a taxi and see this film!
Grade: A By Donna R. Copeland