The director of the fantastic This is Not a Film returns in this offering (also known as Tehran Taxi) playing himself, driving a taxi around Tehran. Again, is this a film or not? How much is a real? How much is staged?
The film opens with a shot through the front windscreen, music and the streets of Tehran. The cab is hailed and passengers enter the vehicle. Another camera captures the conversation between a man who would like to see thieves hung as an example to others and a female teacher who tells him it is important to address the root of the problem of inequality. A new passenger arrives and once he is alone in the cab smiles slyly (see image above!) and says "Mr. Panahi. I recognize you!"
If this isn't cue that the film has been scripted then the next event is. The cab is hailed by an agitated group who load a man covered in blood onto the back seat. He and his wife must get to the hospital and Panahi must film his last will and testament. As the story unfolds, Panahi picks up his young niece from school, meets an old neighbor who has been robbed (and caught the attack on camera) and happens to drive past his lawyer. She remains optimistic despite all she has seen. There are also some rude women who need to throw their goldfish in a spring at exactly noon. Finally the taxi si robbed and the camera (perhaps?) destroyed.
Taxi isn't quite as immediately compelling or dramatic as This is Not a Film. Nor is it quite as experimental or genre-busting. But even though the techniques Panahi uses and the questions he is asking about the nature of film have been explored at length in Iranian cinema, this still feels like a fresh idea full of meaning for an artist who is in political danger simply by practice his craft. Somehow Panahi has found yet another way to evade the letter of the injunction which prevents him from film making It is especially brave considering that Panahi was imprisoned in 2010 for creating "propaganda."
Panahi's films are usually short, unfold quickly and end unexpectedly. While This is Not a Film was about confined interiors, Taxi opens up the streets of Tehran, introducing us to the capital in a way unseen before this, as if we are knowledgeable residents. Panahi's latest work stand up with the strangest and most beautiful films of compatriots like Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf; Iranian films are almost always a pleasure.
Watch the trailer here. Jafar Panahi won the Golden Bear at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival.