Taxi (2015); d. Jafar Panahi

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Talk about persistence in the face of unimaginable obstacles. Dissident Iranian director Jafar Panahi, arrested, imprisoned, placed on house arrest, dealing with a 20-year ban on film-making, not allowed to travel, not allowed to talk to foreigners, his livelihood taken away from him … continues to make films. Panahi’s situation has made international headlines. Those who work with him (and there are many, he is a beloved “local” figure) are also harassed, and sometimes arrested, their passports revoked.

Panahi has made THREE films since the ban came down. He is basically refusing to abide by the rules placed on him. He is a hero. Here is a big post I wrote about him, but the full archive of my Panahi stuff is here.

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The first film that came out, after he was arrested and imprisoned, was the astonishing This Is Not a Film (my review here). It shows Jafar Panahi, under house arrest, waiting to see what the verdict would be. As he waits, he plans his next film. The credits roll featured blank spaces where each crew member’s name should be. A reminder of the stakes involved, of what could happen to people if their participation should be made known. (Panahi’s main collaborator, who leant him the camera to film that film, was arrested, his passport revoked.) This Is Not a Film was smuggled out of Iran inside a pastry in order to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival.

Jafar Panahi’s “story” is the most important thing happening in cinema today. Nothing else even comes CLOSE.

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The second film that came out post-ban was last year’s Closed Curtain (my review here).

Both films are brilliant, personal, harrowing. Angry. His situation has not broken his spirit, or extinguished his desire to criticize the Iranian regime. I hesitate to go on and on about what a hero he is, because then that makes it sound like I think his is an inspiring story. Yes, it is inspiring. He is an inspiration to all artists. HOWEVER, my main feeling about Panahi’s situation is that it is outrageous that he should be treated this way. It is outrageous what has been done to him. Good for him for keeping on, but let’s not forget what has been done to this man, the disgusting non-stop and sometimes life-threatening harassment designed to shut him the hell up. Forever. It is barbaric, medieval, unforgivable.

The films that made Panahi a festival favorite (although his films were banned in his home country) are The Mirror, The Circle, Crimson Gold, Offside. These were the films that made me a fan for life.

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The Mirror tells the story of a little girl trying to get home by herself.

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The Circle is a furious critique of the role of women in Iran, told through multiple stories, all of which intersect in a circular manner. It starts with a bleak quiet scene in a hospital: A woman has given birth to a baby. Her mother will not accept the news from the nurse that it is a girl. It has to be a boy. It must be a boy. Can you check again, please? Her daughter will be thrown out with the trash for “disappointing” her husband and her husband’s family. Girls are nothing. Their birth is not greeted with joy, but shame. (Panahi has a daughter. This situation infuriates him.) Both nurse and mother are veiled. The mother is only seen from behind, a black amorphous shape.

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That’s the first scene. It gets worse from there.

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Crimson Gold is a critique of the class divide in Iran, the haves and have-nots.

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Offside, perhaps his most popular (inside Iran and out), tells the story of 6 girls who dress up as boys in order to attend a soccer match. All of them are arrested. While The Circle can barely contain its rage, Offside takes a light comedic touch. All of the girls are feisty sports fans, who will do what it takes to participate in the sporting event. Here are the girls, held in a makeshift pen behind the stadium, reacting to the sounds inside of Iran scoring a point.

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Panahi thought the ban on women attending sports matches was not just unfair: it was STUPID and ludicrous and totally absurd. So he makes fun of it. As history has shown repeatedly, tyranny can withstand a lot of things, through censorship, etc. But one thing it REALLY cannot abide is comedy and satire. Sure, people will be angry at us: that means we must be doing something right. But to be LAUGHED at? No, no, NO. (Of all of Panahi’s so-called “crimes,” laughing at the stupidity of the rules may have been Panahi’s biggest offense.)

Although Panahi’s films never get official screenings in Iran all of them are well-known, due to the Internet and bootleg DVDs. Offside became so well-known (despite zero screenings in the country) that the following year women showed up at stadiums across the land, fully veiled, holding signs saying WE DON’T WANT TO BE ‘OFFSIDE.’ In other words: Let us in. (Side note: finally, last year, Panahi – and those women – were vindicated. Iran lifted its stupid stupid ban.)

Other Iranian directors used subterfuge in order to get their points across. While there are social critiques in many of them (like Leila, like The Separation, Daughters of the Sun, like The Cow), the points are not as clearly made, as unambiguous, as Panahi’s. He says what he means, he shows what he means. His stuff is as clear as Dog Day Afternoon (he has a lot in common with Lumet). Many film-makers are in jail in Iran, although none of them have the international reputation that Panahi does. Panahi was to be fall guy. The regime’s message: We are not afraid of international outcry. Panahi is going DOWN.

Closed Curtain depicts a man hiding out in his seaside villa with his pet dog (dogs being banned as pets by the regime) and was a clear critique of the political situation in Iran for its citizens. But then, halfway through the film (which never leaves the villa), suddenly another figure appears, walking through the empty rooms, unveiling huge posters on the wall … posters for The Mirror, Offside, The Circle. It is Panahi himself. Panahi never made cameos in his other films. But now … he has to. Not only to take the brunt of any blame – he couldn’t ask another actor to work for him in that capacity, considering the stakes – but also because his films are now ABOUT his situation.

It is one of the most astonishing ongoing monologues in cinematic history. He is telling us what it is like for him, he is STILL TALKING even though everything has been done to silence him. And now: the stories that make up his films before the ban are now HIS stories. He has entered into the world of his films. There is a blend of fiction/reality that is truly radical. (That was there in his films before, most notably “The Mirror”, where the little girl rebels against the film itself, and walks off, saying she doesn’t want to do it anymore. An admission that what they have been doing all along is making a film.)

Closed Curtain is the bleakest film in Panahi’s career, despite its slightly mischievous final shot. And I wondered: Can he go on? Is this it?

Well, now Taxi has arrived.

It won the Golden Bear at the Venice Festival, and the award was accepted by Panahi’s niece Hana Saeidi, who also appears in the film as the budding film-maker niece of the cab driver (played by Panahi.) She practically steals the show. The photos of this little girl accepting the award on her uncle’s behalf are truly moving.

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What her family has been through.

Outside the theatre in Venice were a couple of protestors, reminding those who have forgotten, that Panahi was not in attendance because he is not allowed to leave the country. Never forget. Do not forget this man.

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Taxi is not supposed to exist. Neither is This Is Not a Film or Closed Curtain. But they do exist. And they found their way out of Iran (a passive way to put what were acts of tremendous courage and daring: putting zip drives containing the film in the middle of cakes, etc. so they can make it past the borders). Panahi’s films reach us. They are not meant to reach us, but they do.

While Panahi’s situation is outrageous and interesting, it does not detract from the fact that these are incredible films. Even without knowing his situation, they work. Knowing his situation certainly helps, especially in Closed Curtain (the woman sitting behind me in the theatre was openly confused when his “character” arrived in the film: she did not recognize him). This Is Not a Film and Closed Curtain are taken up with a mournful sense of isolation, of being totally trapped. It feels like the end of the road. Closed Curtain especially (even in its title) feels like a farewell.

Taxi, though, is a horse of a different color. I saw it yesterday at a screening (it’s now making the festival rounds, from Venice to Toronto to New York). My X-Files partner-in-crime Keith Uhlich saw it at Toronto and you can check out his review here It brought tears to my eyes.)

Jafar Panahi had mentioned (in an illegal interview with a foreign journalist around the time of Closed Curtain) that he wasn’t sure how much longer he could go on and that maybe his next film would take place in a taxi cab. He was strictly an urban film-maker, and he was not interested in domestic issues. Or, he was, but his scope was always a larger critique. (Many film-makers in Iran avoid trouble by focusing on the lives of children, and make their points in subtle subversive ways. Think of internationally-acclaimed Oscar-nominated The Children of Heaven.) Panahi filmed out in the streets, usually with non-professional actors, with real backdrops, real traffic. Offside was ACTUALLY filmed during the World Cup qualifying match between Iran and Bahrain. Panahi is Master of Verisimilitude. Because that is his style, the ban has been devastating for him. He is not an Indoors kind of guy. But he worked under those limitations, with This Is Not a Film and Closed Curtain, both of which take place inside.

Taxi is similar: the camera itself never leaves the taxi. Panahi gets out once or twice, and even seeing him walk across a crowded street through the windshield shivers with the danger of freedom. But for the most part, he is enclosed in the taxi: it is an “interior.” There is a vast difference between “inside” and “outside,” which is also reflective of architecture in Middle Eastern countries: they often feature high exterior walls, a clear demarcation between public life and private, necessary in such repression. Fine, we will play by the rules when we’re outside, but the interior of our homes belong to us.

Taxi is about Jafar Panahi who has gotten a job as a cab driver. Panahi plays himself. He is a humorous intelligent presence, natural, inquisitive, a good listener, a good talk-er too.

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This is not an “arch” cameo, a wink-wink Hitchcock kind of thing. Nor is it Woody Allen-ish (although Allen is mentioned repeatedly). Taxi is not about creating a persona. It’s not about acting. It’s about a day in the life of Jafar Panahi IF he were a taxi driver. So it’s realistic but it is also fantasy. People recognize him constantly. He smiles, says Thank You.

Everyone is engaged in the act of recording their own lives (or the lives of others). Taxi is all about technology, and technology’s ability to help us bear witness to our own lives. Panahi’s niece is a budding film-maker, taking a film class in grade school, and she films Panahi as he drives the cab, looking for her story, any story.

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But there’s a caveat. Her teacher has given her a list of rules she must follow in order to make her film “screen-able.” The rules include: respect for the Islamic veil, good guys must never be portrayed wearing a tie, no politics/economics, and more. She rattles off the list to her uncle, who has been imprisoned for violating all of these rules. He doesn’t roar with laughter or anything about the rules she reads off the page. The situation is far too serious, and now it’s being taught to the younger generation. He engages her in conversation about it. After meeting up with an old friend of Panahi’s, Panahi asks his niece, “Do you think he was a good guy?” (The old friend bought her her favorite treat in the world, a banana split.) The niece replies, “Yes. He was a good guy.” Gently, Panahi says, “He was wearing a tie, though. Can a person wear a tie and be a good person?” Now this is a real conundrum for the niece. She has been taught what her film needs to exclude/include. If she breaks those rules, she will not get a good grade AND her film will not be “screen-able” What is she to do?

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A husband and wife who have been in a motorcycle accident (she was wearing her helmet, he was not) clamber in, the husband bleeding all over the car, the wife screaming in agony. They race to the hospital and on the way, the dying man demands that his “testament” (i.e. his will) be filmed. Another passenger films it with his iPhone: the husband declares that all his money and property should be given to his wife. (Because women can’t inherit in Iran. You see? The husband wants to make SURE his wife is taken care of.) Another passenger sells bootleg DVDs, and idolizes Panahi. Once upon a time, he sold DVDs to Panahi, hard-to-find Kurosawa films, or Midnight in Paris or the Turkish film Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. Panahi remembers him, oh yes, of course, and their conversation makes up a large portion of the film. It’s all about “culture” and how important it is to people, how there are no borders with culture (we see this guy hustling a customer, promising to get him the entire series of Big Bang Theory whenever he can). These are humorous conversations, but you can feel that critique of censorship/oppression coursing through it. There is also a commentary on how impossible it is now to limit the flow of information: everyone walks around with a mini movie-camera now in Iran, and we saw the end result of that in the bloody protests in 2009, or in the Arab Spring. A person is beaten or killed on the streets, and 10 people will record it and upload it to Youtube. Get the word out: Look at what is happening here. The repressive regimes no longer contain the out-flow of information. They can shut down Twitter, but it’s a losing battle. Technology has won. (People who bemoan that technology has taken over our lives betray how privileged and blinkered their lives are.)

One guy gets in the cab, he’s going to film-school, he is thrilled to meet Panahi and wants Panahi to give him ideas for stories. Panahi tells him to not take stories from other sources, because they’ve all been done before. Find your own stories.

Passengers notice the camera bolted onto the dashboard, and glance at it, sometimes laughing. There is a frank acknowledgment that “This is a film”, and people seem to be playing themselves, but they are ALSO playing roles. Everyone is involved in film somehow, either as audience members, artists, or hustlers. It is a film ABOUT film.

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It’s Panahi’s funniest film since Offside, featuring in-jokes (all of Panahi’s films are referenced by different people: “This is like that moment in ‘The Mirror.'” “This reminds me of that scene in ‘Crimson Gold,’ you know the one.” “She was imprisoned because she tried to go to a volleyball match. You know, like ‘Offside.'”) Like the poster-unveiling scene in Closed Curtain, these repeated references are Panahi’s reminders to us – to himself – that his films are OUT THERE. In the world. The films matter to people, they are still relevant. But also, it’s a thumbing-of-the-nose to the regime, Panahi saying, You can lock me up, but you cannot take away my accomplishments. It’s daringly subversive, but with a feather-light touch.

There are some almost slapstick sequences, one involving a bickering panicked pair of elderly sisters, frantic to bring their fish to “Ali’s Spring” by noon – it must not be a minute after noon! It’s life or death that they put the fish in the spring by noon! It’s symbolic, it’s superstitious, it’s tremendously important. If they don’t make it, they’ll be cursed with bad luck, it’ll all be over.

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While Panahi drives the sisters across town (as they harangue him for not going fast enough), he makes some phone calls about an upcoming appointment and you can hear them in the back seat, arguing about whether or not to keep the bathroom door open while you’re in there. Is it modest? Immodest? Should you undress with the door open? One of the sisters barks, “Listen. I’m edgy. I’m cool.” (And she’s this little wrinkled biddy. It’s so great!) The other sister snaps, overcome with anxiety about being late as well as the fish, “You are so full of shit!” Then, of course, there’s a minor fender-bender and the fish fly out of the bowl onto the floor and the sisters both have screaming nervous breakdowns as they try to retrieve the flopping fish. Hilarious!

There is more. Much more. With each passenger that gets in, the film achieves more depth. It gets clearer in its motivations. It is explicit about Panahi’s life. One woman who used to be a lawyer until she was denied the right to practice law (due to her interest in prisoner’s rights) now sells flowers by the side of the road. She was also imprisoned and also went on hunger strike, just like Panahi did. They are old old friends. They can speak freely with one another. They have been through it all together. Only someone who has experienced such torment can really understand.

Taxi is brilliant, an ongoing catapulting push – with tons of talk talk talk, never a dull moment, jokes and snarks, and philosophical discussions – all a push towards expression, towards meaning, towards acknowledging reality. Don’t tell me the sun is shining when it is raining. Don’t tell me to rattle off that 2 + 2 = 5, when everyone knows that 2 +2 = 4. (Orwell’s 1984). By demanding that I pretend reality as I see it does not exist, you are demanding that I participate in the tyranny. Tyranny counts on that participation, remember. With every line, every scene, every cracked joke, Panahi refuses to participate in the tyranny. It is reminiscent of Vaclav Havel’s stated way of dealing with his own similar situation, where his plays were known the world over but were unknown in his own country, where he dogged arrest and persecution for decades. He made the decision to live AS IF he were free. Spoken like a true man of the theatre. Panahi lives AS IF he were free. Still. That is what we are witnessing.

The eeriest moment in the film is its least “realistic” (although the film is far too “meta” to be considered realism). Panahi has his niece in the car and he is driving along. Suddenly, his expression changes and he asks, “Did you hear that?” “What?” “I heard a noise.” I didn’t hear a noise. Neither did the niece. Panahi pulls over. (The niece is filming him this entire time, and the footage switches to her camera’s point of view: Panahi gets out, moves to the front of the car, staring up into the air, looking around. All is silent inside the cab.) Once Panahi gets back in, he shakes it off, saying it was nothing. Later, when the “flower lady” gets in the car, he tells her about it. “Just now, as I was driving, I thought I heard my interrogator’s voice.”

Of all of the scenes in Taxi, that one cut to the heart of it. Tyranny is in the air.

Words can’t express my admiration for not only Panahi’s courage – in saying what he means, even after everything he’s been through – but for the WAY in which he says it. He is a true artist. A great humanist who always sides with the dignity of the individual. He has created, yet again, to steal the words of his niece in the film, an “un-screenable” film.

Panahi’s work is indispensable to our world. He is one of the most important film-makers working today. Not just because of his well-known oppression, but because he has managed – somehow – to find a way to tell his own stories, stories that have not yet been told, personal stories, stories involving his country, his people, himself …and he tells those stories despite the vast ruthless architecture of The State devoted to keeping him silent.

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25 Responses to Taxi (2015); d. Jafar Panahi

  1. Lyrie says:

    My favorite theatre is showing Taxi in October. Can’t wait to see it!

    • sheila says:

      Lyrie – Really?? I’m so excited! It’s amazing – one of my favorites of his films thus far – and made under such crazy conditions.

      Let me know what you think when you see it!

      • sheila says:

        I inquired of the publicist whether or not Panahi was available for interviews. I had to ask. Of course the answer was No. Total lock-down, total silence. Panahi is not allowed to give interviews – although of course, he still has.

        Erik Kohn – who interviewed him about Closed Curtain (that’s the link above) – had interviewed him a bunch throughout Panahi’s career – so there was some trust and history there.

        I wonder if Panahi may creep out to do a couple of interviews – once the festival season has died down. I’m sure there is a ton of heat on him right now and I hope he is okay. Silence is always a bad sign.

        But Taxi is wonderful – so glad it exists, that it’s here, that it exists.

      • Lyrie says:

        YES! I squealed when I saw the title in the newsletter! I had watched the trailer the first time you posted it, and thought I would be really careful not to miss it if it was shown in Mtl. I’m really excited!
        So I scanned your review but didn’t read everything, to keep the surprise. I didn’t know him before one of your recent posts, but I was so moved by the courage and the intelligence of this man. I love meta stuff. Meta stuff in the face of horrible injustice? I’m in love already. And the trailer made me laugh so much.

        I’m also very aware that everything I know is Europe-centric or North America-centric. I HAVE to expand my horizons. Living here is a great opportunity for that, but your love for Iranian cinema is a great doorway for me. I’m the kind of person who learns mostly if there’s a personal, emotional connection to something. I’m so glad Supernatural lead me on your site, Sheila, and amongst you, amazing folks!

        • sheila says:

          Lyrie – if you’re interested in “gateway” Jafar Panahi, I recommend Offside. It’s funny as hell – a comedy – with these feisty girls dying to get into the soccer game, all dressed as boys. It’s extremely accessible (unlike, say, The Mirror or Crimson Gold – nothing against those movies, but Offside is a populist blockbuster in comparison).

          // I’m so glad Supernatural lead me on your site, Sheila, and amongst you, amazing folks! //

          Oh man, Supernatural has brought the most amazing group of people to my site and I am also grateful for it!!!

  2. mutecypher says:

    Aw, man. Why did the poster have to be in Packers colors?

  3. Lyrie says:

    Wow.
    We were, I don’t, 25, 30 people? We applauded. Which is not a usual thing – so far I’ve always found the Mtl audience extremely… polite. Wow.
    Thank you, Sheila.

    • sheila says:

      Oh wow. That’s amazing.

      How about that ending, huh?

      Politically radical, not even subversive – but an aggressive explicit commentary on what has happened to him.

      Very glad you saw it!

      • Lyrie says:

        I couldn’t sleep, I kept thinking about it. So smart! Just so well done, you know? I loved every second of it. I love his face. There’s never a dull moment, switching from camera to camera, the iphone, the niece’s camera, etc… But there are also those beautiful contemplative moments. Silences. We look at him look at his niece coming back to the car, and I could have looked at that for even longer.
        Being obsessed with storytelling, I love meta stuff. But, because of his situation, that’s kind this urgency, being meta as a way to survive, to say “see, here’s what we can do.”
        Agh, I don’t know, I’m rambling. I’m just… Wow.
        Before leaving the cinema I took 5 minutes to cry in the lobby. So brave. So much love.

        • sheila says:

          Thank you so much for sharing your response. I know what you mean about crying afterwards. It’s just brutal – and the meta-ness – unlike a lot of “meta” stuff – is not snarky or self-referential in a jokey way – it’s deadly serious. (But it can also be funny too.)

          I love how the niece is pissed off he’s late to pick her up because she wanted to show off her famous uncle and now he’s RUINED it.

          and the ladies with the goldfish bowl. I just … can’t …

          I think maybe the most upsetting scene was when the neighbor got in the car and showed the video of himself getting beaten – AND that he then decided to not report it because he knew the mugger was down on his luck. (I would bet that that really happened to that real-life guy).

          So so glad you saw it!

          • Lyrie says:

            Oh, those ladies were hilarious! And that kid is just so great!

            The first time I cried was when he tells the film student that the stories are there. Tell your story. You have a car, two cameras and a ban? Tell your fucking story.

            But that guy that had been beaten up? I was a mess. In Panahi’s situation, it would be so easy (forgivable) to be manichean. But no. He’s a “normal guy.” The system is the nightmare. People do what they can. He says he’s sorry he couldn’t do anything, but he did, because that guy felt better once he’d told his story. Once it had been seen. Yes, Panahi, we’ve seen you. Fuck, I’m such a mess just thinking about it.
            And again, I loved the moment where we look at him watching something on the ipad. We don’t know what’s going on.
            Maybe it’s because of the situation, but still, it’s so confident to film himself this way. Like when the niece zooms on his profile. It could look like an ego thing, it could also be very unforgiving, but i just saw so much love.
            Haaaaa… (i’m not even sure i’m making sense, but you get what i mean, i’m sure)

            Thank you so much for introducing me to this artist, Sheila.

          • sheila says:

            Oh my gosh the film student.

            and the bootleg DVD guy … “I can get you Season 1 of Big Bang Theory, no problem …”

            Culture EXISTS despite tyranny. It can’t be stopped.

            and yes: by putting himself into the film (he never did that before the ban) he is presenting himself – and taking the ultimate risk: I will put MYSELF on the line here.

            and he’s such a lovely presence – not morose – but definitely not a joke-a-minute either.

    • Jessie says:

      No way Lyrie, twins! I got to see this on Friday too and our audience clapped as well! Though it’s a film festival audience and they’ve been a clappy bunch. Anyway, I agree with you, I thought it was amazing, but I found it tremendously upsetting and I had to walk it off afterwards.

      I’ve tried explaining why to my friends who didn’t see it and I think for me it comes down to a very unsettling pervasive feeling of unfinished business. Everything is interrupted, everything is unresolved. The DVD seller Omid offends his idol and has to get out of the taxi with an unsatisfactory exchange of apology and forgiveness. You know? Dropping people off before they reach their destination. The inability to help someone resolve their circumstance or awkward interpersonal interaction. Panahi can provide a listening ear but there’s no orgy of comfort or justice. The interaction just ceases. The denial of catharsis. The restricted, chopped up frame.

      The niece and the boy — driving away from that exchange with the troubled ambiguous look on her face — was she just peeved that she didn’t get what she wanted or did she sense that she was asking the unaskable because she didn’t want to film the unscreenable? Did she sense she was doing the regime’s work?

      And Panahi’s soft face — looks like every kind uncle you’ve ever known — listening fruitlessly for the source of his interrogator’s voice — and the purity of the lawyer at the end — was she an actress? I don’t know but the complexity and clarity of her emotion was mindblowing in that practical and compassionate and helpless and poetic conversation with Panahi at the end. Anyway. Tremendous movie, so grateful to you for promoting it Sheila, thanks!

      • Lyrie says:

        You’re right! Up until that terrible end, everything is unresolved. Yet I saw so much hope. I tried explaining to a few people too, but it felt like they couldn’t understand. And every time I start crying a little again. You have to see the movie, I guess. Or read Sheila. :)
        Now I really want to see his other movies, and watch Taxi again. To understand the references.
        And yes, his face! Such genuine gentleness.

        • sheila says:

          Please, I beg you, see Offside! As soon as you can!

          It’s on my Top 10 Feminist Films Ever Made list.

          It’s a world-changer, a film like that. Also, HILARIOUS.

      • sheila says:

        I love these thoughts about interruptions – that is so profound, and you are so right!

        Yes: no catharsis. Until the tyranny falls, there can be no catharsis. Catharsis, a la Oprah, is evidence of a privileged and fortunate society.

        I love your thoughts on the niece filming the boy – that was so interesting how the action looped. As though she wanted to see it with another outcome, but it just kept going back to the same thing. Again, a comment on what tyranny does to the innocents like that boy (who can blame him for stealing the money? Jean Valjean, etc.) And yes: doing the regime’s work – it’s so insidious, right? The way she rattled off the ridiculous film-making rules and she’s got enthusiasm and smarts – but at that age, even with her famous uncle, are you going to recognize indoctrination like that?

        It was such a commentary on what the regime WANTED Panahi to do, throughout his career, and what he refused to do.

        And I’m not sure – but I would bet that that lawyer flower-lady is exactly who she said she was. That wasn’t an actress. That was a woman who had been thru it, been to prison, on hunger strike, had her likelihood taken away from her, a real friend of Panahi’s. He never used professional actors anyway, even before the ban … but I think she was the real deal. I LOVED HER.

        I am so so excited you saw it. Very upsetting yes. That final still shot – when the camera was stolen …

        Obviously: this is what was done to him.

        HOWEVER; here we are, on the other side of the world, watching the film that was supposedly stolen from him. (Meta…)

        So on some meta-level, I found myself thinking: Maybe the guys who stole it are the ones who got it out of the country for him. (Not literally: just a suggestive idea in that terrible ending). Because it’s undeniable; Taxi is out here in the world playing in theatres. In terms of the story in the film – it set off all of these associations … As though the burglary was a set-up. Panahi in on it. Ninjas stealing it to smuggle it out.

        And more interruptions. The filming itself interrupted, cut off.

        Not to wiggle out of the implications of the message – that his art has been stolen from him. But the film was so much commenting on itself, and creating narratives that kept looping back and around … some of those questions/ideas became unavoidable.

        • Jessie says:

          Your Halloween post reminded me that I have not replied here! Thanks & sorry. Funnily enough re: your comment on Tehran and taxis I saw another Tehran-set movie recently that featured taxis heavily and followed an almost aimless vignette structure — Tales by Rakhshan Bani-E’temad. If you haven’t seen it I hope you get to before you go! I just thought it was a funny coincidence that these two Iranian films had such similar structural tactics (I actually randomly ended up seeing both of them close to A Pigeon Sat on A Branch Reflecting on Existence so it was like vignette storytelling central in my head for a while. All three movies really rely on that structure to build a sense of frustration, oppression, bewilderment, humour, despair). Made me wonder about the role of the taxi in Tehran. Occupies a similar social/interpersonal place to the Underground or NYC subway? The Old West stagecoach? I’ve no idea. Anyway, very interesting.

          Re: the lawyer, I felt so sure that she was not an actress, too! She was so affecting. Five minutes of dialogue and I felt like I knew her, I loved her — her eloquent gestures, her wistful smiles, her sorrow. Extraordinary person.

          Until the tyranny falls, there can be no catharsis.
          I love the way you break this down. In Tales there are scenes of bureaucracy that feel like something out of Brazil and it’s just so infuriating and alienating. There’s no endpoint. And the tyranny filters down through ordinary people. It uses ordinary people as tools, vessels. Horrible.

          • sheila says:

            Jessie! Such a weird coincidence – but I just saw Rakhshan Bani-E’temad’s “Our Times” this past week. I know that sounds like it can’t be true – but it is! I haven’t seen Taxi though – and I will as soon as I can! I had never seen “Our Times,” but I love her work. The film is amazing – yet another one of those films from Iran that you are grateful exists – its very existence seems dangerous. It’s a documentary about the raucous presidential elections in 2001, when the student population and the youth got involved in campaigning for Khatami, for reform. There was this heady sense of freedom – it’s all real footage – of his campaign speeches, the rioting, young girls passing out leaflets on sidewalks – and these older guys listening to them, and telling them they needed to pull their scarves down further on their forehead. Bani-E’temad became fascinated by the fact that in that election – with so many candidates – there were 47 women who put their names on the ballot for President. Some were college students. But they just wanted to make a statement – of what mattered to them – they knew they wouldn’t get elected. Bani-E’temad tracks down as many of the female candidates who would be willing to talk to her – and becomes focused on one – a homeless woman with a mother and daughter – trying to find an apartment, but she can’t – because she has no money AND no one will rent to a “single” woman. This woman is 25 years old and in a rare vulnerable moment admits, “I feel like I’m 50.”

            The film is depressing because there was so much hope in that election. And things went so south in the decade following (although the forces of freedom were unleashed … and once that cork flies out of the bottle, it is almost impossible to cork it all back up).

            I love your thoughts on the importance of taxis!! Stage-coach! I think that’s quite insightful. Along those lines, I think one of the reasons the taxi is so important is that within its confines, you are safe. It’s an oasis. It’s a no-man’s-land – as you suggest – a boundary-less place, where anything can happen. Out in the streets, you are vulnerable. But a taxi whizzes by and above that type of oppression. It’s similar to a phenomenon written about by a bunch of different writers who have spent a lot of time in countries with dictatorships or tyrannical governments: one of the reasons why soccer is so huge in such countries is that at a soccer game (or rugby, or football, whatever you want to call it), all of that rage and energy that you are not allowed to express publicly has an outlet. But ALSO: in the frenzy of a soccer match at a stadium, you can do anything: you can talk with your friends about how much you hate the Shah, for example, and with the roar of the crowd around you, who would hear? You can organize, you can plot, you can get shit done – because it’s too chaotic an environment for the police to control. Kind of interesting.

            And taxis – which mean mobility, too – you can get around – are also an environment that floats above a political reality. You could actually have a conversation in a taxi if you knew or trusted the driver. You could open up, unload, share.

            So all of that is fascinating to me!!

            And Pigeon on a Branch!! What a movie, huh?? Did you see it on DVD or in a theatre? I saw it at Ebertfest and the whole thing (up until that horrifying scene with the copper drum) played like an outrageous screwball. The entire theatre of 1200 people were ROARING non-stop.

            // And the tyranny filters down through ordinary people. It uses ordinary people as tools, vessels. Horrible. //

            Yes. It requires participation from its citizens, and turns them all into informants. But (in my opinion) – although Iran has a lot of problems, and, of course, a radical fundamentalist element – brought on by poverty, too many young people who can’t get jobs, no prospects, etc. – it’s a very hopeful situation there. They are not completely cowed like, say, the North Koreans – whom we almost never hear from. Iran blocks Facebook, Twitter, everything – but the Iranians get around it. I read some statistic – and this was a while ago – when blogs were starting to become a “thing.” There was some survey done – the amount of blogs per country – and Iran had the most. It was almost like every other person had a blog. So they got online, they stayed online, communication like that cannot be stopped.

            So people like Panahi and Bani-E’temad are voices that are hated by the mullahs and powers-that-be. But still: they speak. They literally will not be stopped.

            I think that’s one of the reasons why I love the films that come from Iran so much. Because everything – even the rom-coms (an Iranian rom-com? YES!!) – have this political aspect, are – by their mere existence – an example of the triumph of freedom of speech/thought.

          • sheila says:

            One of my proudest moments on my site was related to the Iranian Film Blogathon that I hosted here – as my small way of protesting the arrest of Jafar Panahi. Here’s a link to the Table of Contents: http://www.sheilaomalley.com/?p=33262

            Many bloggers and writers contributed – either new pieces, or links to pieces they had written – and it was just an amazing celebration of the films of Iran. It came about because of a sad situation, of course, and I felt helpless – what the hell can I do to help Jafar Panahi – but my view was, which I wrote in the intro: Tyranny requires privacy in order to do its work. Let’s deny them that privacy.

            After the Blogathon, Fandor asked me to write a piece about the experience. I was happy to do so!

            At the very top of that second piece, is a screen-grab of an email I received from Reza, a film student in Tehran. The email came in during the Blogathon – which made me think … Okay, so someone over there has actually found the content … they know, in other words, that we over here know what is happening and CARE.

            I got another email from a kid named Mohammed who told me he “hacked through the firewall” at his college’s computer center so he could read some of that content.

            I know this doesn’t make a real difference – in terms of Panahi’s situation or the horrible oppression in Iran and all that – but it still was a symbol: These college kids, the young people, are online, man, and they will not be stopped from getting the word out (uploading videos to Youtube of people getting attacked by the police, etc.) or getting to us – firewalls be damned.

            So there’s hope, with hackers like Reza and Mohammad doing their thing. :)

          • Lyrie says:

            Jessie, Sheila: love the thoughts about taxis.
            I keep thinking about this movie so much. And funny, I saw A Pigeon pretty recently too. I’m so glad I have you, somewhere on the internet, to talk to about those things.

  4. Jessie says:

    Lyrie and Sheila, all this coincidence is very appropriately spooky!

    Tales is the only movie by Bani-E’temad I’ve seen and apparently it features characters from some of her earlier films so I am sure I missed many subtleties (I only ended up seeing it because I messed up repeatedly with my scheduling). Our Times sounds like a stunner, I will definitely keep an eye out for it. Tales definitely emphasises female experience as well, very compassionately.

    Because everything – even the rom-coms (an Iranian rom-com? YES!!) – have this political aspect, are – by their mere existence – an example of the triumph of freedom of speech/thought.
    In Tales: women in private and public, political, union organisers, fighting for their sons, fighting for other women. These were domestic and personal stories in many different moods but there was always a political inflection. You know, a domestic drama that happens because a factory worker is illiterate and his wife is more educated than he. My favourite was the last, essentially a ten-minute conversation in a taxi between the astounding Peyman Mooadi and Baran Kosari that was basically the beginning of any romantic comedy. Incredible writing, incredible performances. And so darkly funny — they’re in a taxi because they’re taking a woman who’s just attempted suicide from the hospital back to a women’s shelter — they’re having this conversation and she’s she’s kind of moaning and suffering in the back seat….

    I think one of the reasons the taxi is so important is that within its confines, you are safe. It’s an oasis..you could actually have a conversation in a taxi if you knew or trusted the driver. You could open up, unload, share.
    So well put — this feeling definitely comes through in Taxi (although I can’t stop thinking of Omid, who messed up so badly with his idol!). In Tales this space is more fraught I think, or more risky to your equilibrium. The conversations cut really deep. Emotion is a lot closer to the surface, people yell, cry, etc. Painful personal history is constantly threatening to overwhelm. Panahi kind of keeps his equilibrium the whole way through Taxi which is one of the reasons I find it so fascinating. It’s almost a hangout movie. (how can we be talking about Baby and Taxi in such close conjunction?).

    Pigeon on a Branch
    I saw this in a theatre with about thirty people and it started off with chuckles but it got increasingly silent. I would have liked to see it with your crowd! I don’t think a lot of people enjoyed it. “Not enjoying it” is a pretty appropriate response actually I think! There was a critics’ session on it a couple of days later and maybe ten people turned up to talk about it with critics. A lot of “I thought it was funny at the start, but…” None of us had seen the other two and again I wondered if I was missing any throughlines.

    I thought it was kind of hysterical and draining and massively disturbing. Definitely Taxi and Pigeon were the highlights for me. The filmmaking was superb. Reminded me of Playtime in the way the scenes were set up for comic potential — and Andersson has his own Tativille, I learned — but of course the purpose and emotion is very different.

    the North Koreans whom we almost never hear from.
    lol I also saw a moderately bad documentary on North Korea that really suffered for lack of access to its people. Total void at the centre of the film. Telling and tragic but they ought to have recalibrated the film.

    Thank you for linking to the blogathon, looks like a lot of fascinating articles and I hope to see more Iranian cinema and explore it further! So cool that those students reached out to you! Like that film fan in Taxi. In the immortal words of Jeff Goldblum, life, uh…finds a way.

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