Something about this delightful documentary style- film, Taxi, by Jafar Panahi reminds of a few lines that the beloved Japanese director Hayao Miyasaki, once, delivered in an interview with Roger Ebert.
“What really matters in a film are the underlying emotions that you never let go of, if you stay true to joy and astonishment and empathy you don’t have to have violence and you don’t have to have action. They’ll follow you.”
Even though he is currently facing a twenty year ban from making films, this brave Iranian director has managed to make three masterpieces till now. Unlike his earlier two films, This is not a film, which was shot inside his own apartment, and Closed curtain which was shot in a private house Panahi now, with Taxi, he takes to the open streets of Tehran.
Limitations often allow filmmakers to make extraordinary works of art. Though Taxi’s set seems restricted to the enclosed space of the cab, it also includes the narrow by lanes and wide highways of Tehran and really could we ask for a more authentic production design? In the same way, on the surface the film seems to be concerned with the passengers and their conversations while it actually speaks volumes about more serious concerns like the death penalty, superstition, the imprisonment of Ghoncheh Ghavami and mocks Iran’s intolerance for “sordid realism”.
For the first few seconds, we are shown a vision of modern day Iran as it would seem like from the driver’s seat while a delicate tune plays in the background, this quite movement of inaction and the jerky camera movement lets us get accustomed to this joy ride. In fact, we don’t even see Panahi on screen till quite some time; the first interaction takes place between a male and a female passenger who bicker about whether people should be hanged for petty crimes.
The characters make a crucial part of the story and are brought to life by the actors, even though they aren’t professionals. But his little niece, Hana Saedi, steals the show with her continuous babbling and childlike temper, you also catch a glimpse of Panahi’s loving relationship with his niece, he seems to be highly amused by every word that tumbles out of her mouth.
Taxi moves from a light-hearted tone to a serious one without a single bump, Panahi’s old neighbor shows him a clip of how he was robbed and beaten up yet he doesn’t wish to report the incident as he knows the duo and fears that they will be punished unfairly by the harsh judicial system. As Hana climbs back in the taxi, the movie slowly and smoothly shifts to a lighter mood.
Later, it becomes self-reflective and speaks about the restricted freedom a film maker has if he has to produce a movie. There are also a few comical references to Panahi’s earlier films Offside and Crimson Gold. Since Hana has to make a distributable movie for a school project she mentions all the instructions given by her film teacher, no violence, no contact between man and woman and no “sordid realism” among other things.
This is comically brought out when she berates a boy for ruining her film when he picks up a note which fell out of a bridegroom’s pocket as it made her unintentionally capture sordid realism. A trivial little detail, we see Hana as she is filmed through the hidden camera in the cab who is in turn busy filming the bride and groom as they get into their car who are simultaneously being shot by a cameraman, so we are actually looking at this scene through three cameras!
The film also does not show us what is happening, this might also be because the set is limited to the taxi but this helps it capture some beautiful movements like the Bride & groom scene.
There’s also a moving moment where Panahi shows how he is still traumatized by his past, as he thinks that he heard his interrogator’s voice, a voice he admits later he could never forget.
The most beautiful scene, in Taxi, is when Panahi picks up an old friend, a lawyer who is on her way to meet a hunger striker imprisoned for trying to attend a men’s volleyball game, or “flower lady” as Hana calls her.
In a spot on and continuous dialogue, she says how the system tries to manipulate the people and break them down till the outside world becomes a bigger cell for them. While getting out, she places a rose on the deck right before the camera as she believes that the people of cinema can be relied on.
For quite some time the camera stays with the flower on the deck as the cab moves along and reaches its final destination, Ali’s Springs. The sound design is also really intuitive, the background music is sparse but always goes hand in hand with the tone of the scene while sometimes all that can be heard is silence which helps to emphasize the subtle meaning in the scene. In the last scene, the beautiful melody is only heard until Hana and Panahi get out of the cab.
The color scheme is lively and the black and yellow tones in the tunnel scenes are a delight for the eyes, the light-hearted, witty dialogues is one of the strongest suits of this movie. The editing in places also adds a different charm, like in the first scene when we don’t see Panahi on screen for a long time, or when Panahi is talking on the phone to the woman from the hospital but the camera stays on the people getting in and out of a bungalow.
The fact that no credits are screened as Jafar Panahi can’t risk naming the cast and crew (also this is a right reserved only for distributable movies) makes a perfect ending to this subtle, light- hearted joy ride that stays with you as both a warm feeling and a haunting question.
check out the trailer of here-Trailer of Taxi by Jafar Panahi