Jafar Panahi really pissed somebody off. A world-class filmmaker, Panahi has been banned from making films by the Iranian government. The films Panahi does make, under house arrest, are anti-films, and they include the mainstream This Is Not A Film (2011) and the more avant Closed Curtain (2013).
Panahi’s anti-films have a documentary feel since he is indeed just recording his life. Taxi, Panahi’s latest movie, also known as Taxi Tehran, a.k.a. Jafar Panahi’s Taxi, posits that Panahi works as a taxi driver while multiple GoPro style cameras capture the ride and the occupants.
Panahi’s fame inducing films, like The Circle (2000) and Offside (2006), depicted the oppression of women in Iranian society. Perhaps oddly, Panahi was detained by the man at JFK airport in 2001 while traveling from Hong Kong to Buenos Aires on a film festival jaunt. That’s just crazy; that’s like detaining Robert Zemeckis or Steven Spielberg while flying to an international film festival because they were using Turkish Airlines and was making a stopover in Istanbul on his way to Stockholm.
When you watch a film like Taxi you’re struck by how great life appears be in Iran. Jafar is out slumming, driving a cab, providing a service, and having a good time. His second customer recognizes him because he is one of Iran’s most beloved filmmakers.
Eventually his pre-teen niece needs to get picked up at school and she begins to take over the film and lectures Panahi on the proper use of cinema according to the state. This is after all what she has been taught in school, and she is making her own digital film that will tow the party line.
When Panahi leaves her alone in the cab to run an errand Taxi switches the point-of-view to her film as she shoots a street urchin ripping off a nearby wedding party.
Everything seems so spontaneous and yet this film is as meticulously planned out as Birdman. At one point, Jafar drives past an accident, stops for assistance and the bleeding victim is put in his car and driven to the nearest hospital. All along the way the dialogue of a previous scene maintains its presence. When Jafar arrives at the hospital to unload the poor guy there’s a whole cacophony of people and voices and stretchers.
Long scenes are cool, and one shows Panahi leaving his cab while the camera still rolls. Some thugs break in, but are they looking for money or trying to steal the cameras in an ultimate bit of Watergate inspired skullduggery?
Taxi unwinds in an exclusive engagement at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston beginning this Friday, October 23. There are seven screenings over the next two weekends.
The Brown Auditorium is such a fine venue with great sound and projection. Taxi is the kind of film that could easily play at the Sundance Cinemas Houston or the River Oaks or even the Alamo Drafthouse. Look for the MFAH to offer an exclusive engagement next month of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Assassin.
— Michael Bergeron