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Categories: Movie Reviews

Lynn Klein goes for a ride in Jafar Panahi’s “Taxi”, the “stunning” Iranian hit that will screen at the BFI London Film Festival this month.

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Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi is technically barred from making films by his government. Nonetheless, he has managed to produce a stunning portrait of his native country, take it on the festival circuit, and even win the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival.

This film, Taxi, takes its audience on a journey through the bustling streets of Tehran. Panahi himself dressed up as a taxi driver and sat down behind the wheel of a regular cab. But he installed a camera on his dashboard to film his customers and their conversations.

At first, the setting seems benign, even a little dull. The streets of Tehran don’t look particularly interesting. But the passengers start talking and their conversations reflect society in Iran, with all its facets and problems. A teacher discusses poverty with a man who, according to himself, is a thief; two superstitious women carrying a fish believe that they have to put that fish into a well at a certain time of the day; a lawyer discusses a current legal issue. Not only does the film portray what the average person has on their mind, but it also shows the drama that occurs on the streets, most notably when the taxi is used as an ambulance.

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The illusion is shattered by someone inevitably recognising Panahi, but that passenger opens up another discussion, about the very industry he works in. In the end, one wonders what exactly happened to his footage, as some crooks break into his car, which reflects the uncertainty of Panahi’s own situation.

The film manages to get into a comfortable pace consisting of quick dialogue, passengers that bring their troubles into the cab, and Panahi quietly driving around alone. He refrains from revealing much about himself, and stays a nice, unassuming taxi driver. Nonetheless, he stirs his passengers in a certain direction, uncovering a slice of real life in Iran. For the passengers, the cab is a place that exists in between the public and private sphere; they can speak their mind up to a certain point. The film ends without any credits, as the people are participating in a risky endeavour by appearing in a film that is not allowed to exist.

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Using a small camera on the dashboard of a car poses problems in terms of the frame, which results in Panahi manually moving the camera to focus on the person he is driving at the time. His footage is complemented by footage by his niece Hana, whom he picks up from school. She is assigned to make a short film for school, and films what she sees from her uncle’s cab, thus becoming another intriguing character that stimulates the debate around filmmaking in Iran.

Through all of the film’s conversations, it neatly sums up many of the subjects because of which Panahi was banned from making films; an audacious move in the light of previous arrests and prison sentences. It is exactly therein that the beauty of the film lies: in as simple a setting as a taxi, the great debates of modern Iranian society are revealed and discussed. There is hardly any music needed, only one camera (besides his niece’s camera), and Panahi does not interfere much with his passengers’ conversations. The audience gets a sense of the city without ever actually leaving the cab.

Taxi can thus not only be enjoyed as a scenic ride through a foreign city, but on the intellectual level that Panahi sure had in mind when he made it; which makes it a great, multi-layered film that no doubt has earned its accolades.

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Lynn Klein is a journalist currently doing a print journalism MA at Sheffield. Unsurprisingly, she's a film buff with a love for art and indie film. Her favourite cinema is the Duke of Yorks in Brighton. Other interests include books, coffee and travelling.

Posted on Oct 5, 2015

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