Taxi Review

Posted: February 16, 2015 in 2015 Berlinale, Drama, Foreign, Reviews
Tags: , , , ,

Panahi TaxiThe inevitable question that arose immediately after the announcement of Jafar Panahi’s film Taxi as the winner of the Golden Bear for Best Picture at the 65th Berlinale was whether the movie deserved the honor or was the prize intended as a message of support from the international community for the persecuted Iranian director.

The answer was yes.

Taxi was at the top of a weak field in this year’s Competition program. On paper, the entries in the premium category looked formidable with heavyweight directors like Terrence Malick, Werner Herzog, and Peter Greenaway unveiling their latest works alongside a number of less acclaimed, but seemingly accomplished colleagues. However, the top names delivered a series of dogs that ranged from bad to awful, and the remaining movies all suffered from significant flaws.

In short, Panahi was the last man standing.

That well suited those eager to give a boost to the artist who was arrested and convicted for propaganda against the Iranian government and for threatening the national security of the country. In 2010, he was sentenced to six years imprisonment and a 20-year ban on filmmaking. As Taxi is the third film Panahi has completed since the imposition of the sentence, it is clear that the Iranian government is using the court’s decision as a Sword of Damocles with which to intimidate him and other would-be dissidents. What is real is the withdraw of any domestic support or acknowledgement as well as a travel ban that prevents him from going abroad to enjoy the accolades his films routinely elicit.

Panahi sent to Berlin in his stead, his young niece, Hanna Saeidi, who charmed the audiences at the premier and the award ceremony just as she does in the film, when she climbs into her uncle’s cab midway through the movie and hijacks the conversation. Until that point, Taxi comes across as a mischievous and amusing project that could have been taken on by any number of celebrity directors around the world. The conceit is that Panahi is behind the wheel of a taxi while a camera mounted on the dashboard, through which he takes viewers on a tour of Tehran.

Fares come and go, each doing his or her part to lift the veil that authorities have imposed over the current state of affairs in Iran. A mugger and a teacher share a ride and debate crime and punishment. A smiling, diminutive hustler who sells pirated DVDs makes a call on a client, a young film student. Two older women hurry to set their goldfish free by noon. A motor bike driver and his wife are rushed to the hospital after suffering an accident. Each encounter is carefully scripted, yet flows freely, expertly steered by Panahi, who may be the worst cabbie in all of Tehran, but is a good natured guide to all those who climb in to his car.

Some recognize him immediately; others remain focused solely on their own situations. The first half of the film is hardly political, save the setting. That changes when he picks up his niece belatedly from school, and she begins sharing the details of her latest assignment. She is to make a film, which, of course, must comply with all the regime’s rules in order to be “distributable.” Panahi has no accidental fares after that. He next goes to see a former neighbor, who has been the victim of a robbery that was filmed on security cameras.

The coincidence that presented itself early in Taxi, that so many are involved in the making or distributing of films, becomes bitter irony as it seems that everyone is making a movie except the director who has been relegated to driving a cab. Panahi then picks up the woman with the roses, a soothing therapeutic voice to the imprisoned and persecuted, a gentleness that pushes aside the harsher tones of the interrogator that still haunts him. It ends with a reminder that in Iran, the government has rights to the final cut.

Where Panahi goes from here is not clear. He has made three films about Panahi not being allowed to make films since the ban was announced. His courage and resolve are to be applauded, but he cannot allow the range of his voice to be limited as he struggles to remain heard. It’s time for Panahi to turn the camera around and focus on another subject. His courage will be no less evident.

 

 

 

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