Director Jafar Panahi is purportedly banned in Iran from making films, but you’d never know it by watching him tootle around Tehran in his taxi, which serves as a hemmed-in yet viewer-friendly movie set for this cinematic gem.
In the playfully titled “Jafar Panahi’s Taxi,” the director places a camera strategically in a cab and casts himself as the “driver,” filming his conversations with an odd assortment of passengers in the Iranian capital. From the taxi window, we are treated to numerous images of Persian street life.
The first scene features one of the most comic conversations about public executions that you will ever see — setting the tone for highly amusing but biting social commentary. At times, it’s difficult to tell how much is improvised and how much is scripted, but that only adds to the fun as we watch this clever act of subversion.
There are interesting ruminations on such issues as black market DVDs, crime, the plight of women and artistic freedom. One of the most memorable passengers is Panahi’s real-life, wisecracking niece, who plays (you guessed it) the taxi driver’s niece. She’s a girl who has filmmaking aspirations of her own, and who never hesitates to put Panahi in his place.
There are no credits to speak of at the end, not a surprise given the political persecution that Panahi faces in his homeland. It’s a stark reminder of the risks that some filmmakers take to get their work out into the world. But we are glad that Panahi succeeds in his quest: This is a movie that you will admire both for ts courage and its creativity.
by David Lewis, San Francisco Chronicle