On the occasion of the release of his first feature film, the Iranian director talks about escaping the shadow of his father, censorship in Iran and the universal message behind the film
Panah PanahiThe first feature film of is not a typical Iranian film. While the films shot in Iran by Abbas Kiarostami, Asghar Farhadi and Panah Panahi’s father, Jafar Panahi, tend to be understated and minimalist, Take the road deviates from reality and explodes with Iranian pop music: a six-year-old boy breaks the fourth wall and synchronizes with the camera; a mother sings with pre-revolutionary tunes to disguise her sadness; and at the darkest moment, the camera soars skyward for a transcendent and hypnotic tribute to 2001: A Space Odyssey.
A sly, slippery drama that’s heavy with political fury and hilarity too, Take the road features a family on a rough road trip. For a long time, the purpose of the road through the dusty landscape of Iran is hidden – and if you don’t want to know, stop reading here. The restless mother (Pantea Panahiha) is on edge, the grumpy father (Hasan Majuni) tends to a broken leg, the eldest son (Amin Simiar) is quietly consumed with emotion and the youngest son (Comic superstar Rayan Sarlak becoming ) fills the silence with incessant chatter. The parents, it is revealed, sold their house in order to smuggle their 20-year-old child across the border into Turkey.
“I had a couple of friends who left Iran illegally,” Panah, 38, told me from Tehran via an interpreter in late June. “Their last trip to the border was with their families. I found their stories so cinematic. Do many young Iranians want to leave? “Trying to have a better life now in Iran is hopeless. The only way to project yourself into this better life is to consider leaving the country. It’s almost factual. Not everyone does it, but everyone wants to do it.
Not that Take the road is as depressing as its subject. The first half weaves in comic vignettes like a hitchhiking cyclist who cheats in a race and a annoying dog no one wants to give up. Inside the SUV, too, the family dynamic unfolds like a finely tuned sitcom pilot, though it gradually reveals a more sinister reality: the eldest son’s crestfallen body language is sorry, the mother worries about being followed and a cell phone is buried in the ground. Meanwhile, the unfiltered yelps of the unconscious young boy only underscore the absurdity of the cruel scenario.
“What I found more interesting than presenting contemporary Iran factually was the journey of a family that lets their child go,” explains Panah. “They send their child to the unknown. Maybe death. But still, you let your child go. This is probably what made audiences around the world identify with this film. It’s not a group of people who have a specific problem somewhere in the world; it is something more common to our existence as human beings.
While Panah does not consider Take the road to be strictly autobiographical, his sister, Solmaz Panahi, moved to Paris, legally, due to the surveillance exercised over their father. Take the road, too, doubles as a metaphor for smuggling a film out of Iran. For example, the script submitted to receive a filming permit in Iran ultimately caused the eldest son to decide to stay in the country – safely, it was not the script that was actually used.
Additionally, Panah is the son of a famous author who, in 2010, received a 20-year cinema ban from the Iranian government for alleged propaganda; Since then, Jafar Panahi has released four films, including this is not a movieposted in Cannes on a USB key hidden in a birthday cake, and 3 faces, of which Panah was editor. (Our Zoom call comes weeks before Jafar Panahi was arrested by the Iranian government for investigating the detention of fellow filmmakers Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Al-Ahmad. As of this writing, Jafar faces six years in prison. imprisonment; his wife says the BBC it is a “kidnapping”.)
In keeping with family tradition, Take the road premiered at Cannes last year where it was a critical success and proved that the rookie filmmaker has already escaped his father’s shadow. In Iran, however, Panah’s tragicomedy never received a theatrical release. “It aired on two Iranian platforms, so some people saw it,” says the director. “But there is a boycott of the film in magazines and on websites. It’s as if it didn’t exist. »
What is the verdict of the few Iranians who filmed the film? “In general, the most negative reviews I have received come from Iranians. They find the film too long or the script uninteresting. But I think it’s because Iran is extremely conservative. We are isolated and locked into a certain way of being – and also in terms of cinema. Iranian cinema is not ready for anything a little fanciful or postmodern.
Again, Iranian films – at least those that reach UK cinemas – often revolve around cars. After all, while under house arrest and banned from filming, Jafar walked around with a camera in Taxi and 3 faces; Kiarostami’s most famous works involve long driving scenes. In Take the road, the family vehicle is essentially a place in its own right. “I wanted the car to be claustrophobic,” says Panah. “I played with the lenses to contrast it with the wide angles and spaces in the second half of the film.”
When the family gets out of the car, danger permeates the open air. Panah again plays with geographical displacement by inserting a tribute to Kubrick: “It’s through 2001 [that] I discovered science fiction and I became passionate not only for literature and cinema, but also for looking at the sky, the stars and the galaxy. This film opened up a whole world to me. He adds: “I have a science fiction project but it won’t be my second or my third film… in Iran, it would be impossible. I couldn’t even choose the size of the car because of the limited resources we have in the Iranian industry.
When I notice that Iran and its endless landscapes – the deserts and fields of Take the road could be repurposed for a modern Tarkovsky remake stalker – seem particularly cinematic, Panah counters that Westerners only watch a fraction of his country’s production. “98% of Iranian films deal with the struggles of the city, the tensions, the difficulties. Perhaps the only director you know abroad whose representative of this trend is Farhadi.
The problem with Iranian films shot in the city, Panah continues, is that any scene set inside a house is fake. Iranian law states that a woman’s hair cannot be shown on screen, and therefore female characters will wear a hijab in the privacy of their bedrooms. “Women don’t wear headscarves at home,” he says. “But we have to accept this artificial rule in our films. What if we don’t want to make a film that tells lies about female characters? We have no choice but to get in a car and hit the road.
Take the road is exclusively in UK cinemas on July 29.