One of Iran’s most prominent filmmakers, Jafar Panahi, is forbidden by the government to make movies, so for a while he drove a cab… and filmed what happened inside and in range of the camera outside.
The result was first called “Taxi Tehran,” then “Taxi,” and now in U.S. distribution, “Jafar Panahi’s Taxi.” Overcoming the government’s outrageous crackdown (on him and a group of independent-minded directors, placing pressure on such world-famous artists as Abbas Kiarostami and Asghar Farhadi), Panahi produced a fascinating slice(s)-of-life work, which won the 2015 Berlin Film Festival’s Golden Bear Award, the event’s highest prize for the best film.
Released in the U.S. earlier this month, the film is arriving in Northern California on Friday. In the Bay Area, first screenings will take place at the Landmark Opera Plaza in San Francisco, Landmark Shattuck in Berkeley, and the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael.
As Panahi is driving, his random passengers discuss sharia, gender equality (or lack of it), there is an accident victim who uses the ride to hospital to record his will, which goes against the custom of depriving widows; there is a mysterious mission of getting fish to a spring to be released there at a specific time; and her niece, Hana, berates Panahi for not letting her classmates see her famous uncle. She then goes on to make a film of her own in the taxi. Hana Saeidi accepted the award in Berlin for her uncle, who is not allowed to leave Iran.
An avid movie fan recognizes the director and they talk about films, then have joint adventures. Through it all, Panahi – kind, bemused, helpful – observes terms of the regime’s rules, using only natural light and not taking the camera out of the car. Even so, looking from the inside, there is an interesting panorama seen of Tehran street life. Stories told in the taxi about jailing women for attending a volleyball game sound like wild fiction, but they are just part of Iran’s reality. The bravery of a “banned director” to keep presenting “sordid reality” specifically forbidden by the government is nothing short of heroic.
Also, apparently, everybody is selling, buying, and exchanging DVDs of Western movies and TV series. (If there is a law in Tehran against using cell phones while driving, no one is observing it.) A reading of rules for “distributable films” strain credulity.
“Taxi” is Panahi’s third picture smuggled out of Iran in defiance of an official 20-year filmmaking ban, imposed for a documentary he tried to make on the unrest following Iran’s disputed 2009 presidential election. The other two are “This Is Not a Film” (2011) and “Closed Curtain” (2013), both receiving wide distribution and international acclaim. With all its might, the Iranian government has failed to rein in a great creative talent.