Jafar Panahi, who has given us some of the best Iranian movies -- hell, best from anywhere movies -- has, for some time now, been banned from making them by his country's powers-that-be. Still, he soldiers on. His latest provocation, and perhaps his most charming/scathing/endearing endeavor is called TAXI, and in it, Mr. Panahi plays (or maybe is) a taxi driver in downtown Tehran.
This Is Not a Film). Hardly. They are planned and plotted as tightly as the best of mysteries, making use of everything from irony to subtlety to quiet drama and on-the-fly humor. Yet they appear to be near improvisation, spinning outward into greater meaning and importance as they cleverly unfurl.
The movie begins with a panorama of Tehran traffic. Hey, we're just driving around; what's wrong with that? We'll soon see, as Panafi's new movie adds another link to the chain of work from this talented, put-upon man. (Under house arrest for some time, he is still banned from filmmaking.) Slowly, the soundtrack offers some music (the first notes of which may put you in mind of I Love Paris) and then dialog begins, as the taxi driver picks up passengers, one of whom is a blowhard whose dialog about the need for capital punishment for thieves causes the other passenger, a woman, to argue heatedly against this idea.
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia and Midnight in Paris). A wounded man and his wife must suddenly take over the cab -- and Panafi's cell phone -- for a video of the guy's last will and testament. Later two middle-aged ladies carrying fish in a glass bowl (below) plead for and receive a ride -- until the needs of the filmmaker's own niece (in the penultimate photo) supersede.
mitzvah filmed with rare sweetness and subtlety -- which is then immediately leavened with an ironic touch of exactly the opposite. If Taxi isn't a cinematic masterpiece (and that's a word I almost never use), I sure wouldn't know what is.
Kino Lorber, in Farsi with English subtitles and running just 81 minutes -- opened yesterday, October 2, in New York City at the IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinema, and will grace Los Angeles next Friday, October 9, at various Laemmle theaters. In the weeks to come, TAXI will have opened in 25 cities across the USA. Click here and scroll way down to see all currently scheduled playdates.