Saturday, July 16, 2016

Jafar Panahi | تاکسی‎‎ Jafar Panahi's Taxi

awarding a rose to the invisible audience
by Douglas Messerli

تاکسی‎‎ (Jafar Panahi’s Taxi) / 2015

What at first seems to be a kind of comic homage to Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, who in his films Taste of Cherry and Ten centered the action in a taxicab, goes beyond those issues when one realizes that this taxicab driver is none other than the noted Iranian director Jafar Panahi, who has been sentenced to house arrest and to a 20 year period in which he not permitted to make movies. As in his 2011 This Is Not a Film, a film shot entirely by a colleague within Panahi’s apartment about a movie that the director could not make but acted out nonetheless, and his “thriller” Closed Curtain (again shot by a colleague), Taxi was not actually filmed by Panahi but by a camera attached to the dashboard of his cab which he describes to his seemingly random pickups as a “security device.” Accordingly, there are no writers and not even a true director; it is simply titled Jafar Panahi’s Taxi, a description of what it actually was.

     Indeed his first customer, seeing the camera, immediately perceives it as precisely as a security device and goes on a long rant against thieves who steal tires from ordinary folk, insisting that, under Shiria law they should be executed. An outspoken woman school teacher, sitting behind him, speaks out against his convictions, arguing that Iran needs no further executions, and pointing up the ridiculousness of his viewpoints; viewpoints which he emphatically disputes, demanding “justice.” When finally the two leave the taxi at different places, a third rider, Omid, smilingly tells the driver that he recognizes him, having sold him banned pirated movies in the past, while suggesting that the two other passengers may actually have been actors.

      The film’s audience, in fact, has no way of knowing for sure whether or not the film’s action has been planned or happened quite accidentally, and for the rest of the movie it is almost impossible to determine whether what we are seeing is a fiction or a real series of experiences. In short, one is never sure—and Panahi’s subtle shrugs disavow any knowledge of—whether this is a real piece of cinema or a series of convenient coincidences. Did Panahi “make” a film or was he merely recording a series of Tehran encounters?

      In any event, we soon are convinced that this door-to-door movie pirate is, in fact, a kind of hero, bringing art to an audience to which it would otherwise be unavailable because of censorship. Because Panahi is at the wheel, he able to convince another customer he brings into taxi to buy more DVD’s than usually does.