Yesterday I ran through the cold rain and arrived soaking wet at the Movies That Matter Festival to see Jafar Panahi’s new film, Taxi. Panahi has a 20 year ban on making movies in his home country, Iran. But he doesn’t stop making films, filmmaking is his life and this is his third film since he got the ban. Taxi won the Golden Bear at the Berlinale this year and I was very curious about it. But… I was disappointed. Here’s why and also here’s what’s good about the film.
What happens is this: a taxi drives through the streets of Tehran. It’s not just any taxi but one driven by the director himself. Very different people come into the car and he brings them where they want to go while the camera is on. The film has humor and each of the people coming in the taxi illustrates – some more explicit, some more subtle – life in nowadays Iran, with its absurdities, restrictions and superstitions. Sounds brilliant. But wait.
The twist of the film is that it’s not actually a documentary but a documentary-like film. And I didn’t know that for sure, I read it was a doc and then I read it was somehow a mind game and it’s what ruined it for me. Because even if you don’t know, and even though occasionally in doubt, you realize it is (just) fiction.
And there’s something disappointing in realizing that. Then the camera is not a genuine witness that reveals some subtle yet poignant reality. What the camera reveals is the need of the director to express himself and his situation. He does it well, and yet it feels somehow forced. If what you see would be talks and situations that genuinely appear in an artificially created and quite ingenious situation, then the film would be very strong. But seeing it as a ‘planned metaphor’ with the air of a documentary. Well.
The Festival also screens Panahi’s 2011 film This Is Not a Film – which was famously smuggled out of Iran and brought to Cannes on a memory stick hidden in a cake.