Whatever else may or may not be changing in Iran, the situation for filmmakers there remains restrictive. Iranian director Jafar Panahi, placed under house arrest after a run-in with his government's censorship machine, managed to make two extremely low-budget films, This Is Not a Film and the less effective Closed Curtain that were smuggled out of the Islamic Republic. Panahi, who is now apparently enjoying some greater liberty, has made a new feature that takes up many of the same themes as This Is Not a Film, blurring the lines between documentary reality and cinematic artifice. Its conceit, so flimsy as to be absurd, is that Panahi is driving a taxi around Tehran with an anti-theft camera on the dashboard, speaking to a series of passengers who happen to get into his car. The result is ninety minutes of delightful whimsy and meta-satire.
Jafar Panahi's Taxi, directed by Jafar Panahi
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In one of the stranger passages in the film, two old women get into the director's taxi, carrying a gold fish in a large glass bowl. The goldfish may refer to Panahi's earlier film The White Balloon, which is about a little girl who wants to buy a goldfish, but the women are taking this gold fish to the Spring of Ali. As they explain, somewhat exasperated, they have kept this fish from the spring alive for a year. Now they must return the fish to the spring or they will die. (The spring, in the southern part of the city, is a pre-Islamic site, but these sorts of popular devotions do not die easily, surely a point of contention in the Islamic Republic.) The passenger with the greatest impact is Panahi's precocious niece, whom he picks up at her school. Like the DVD seller, who is pressed into service to record a wounded pedestrian's last will and testament with Panahi's cell phone, the niece seems more directly a filmmaker than her famous uncle, using her digital camera to create a short film for a class project. Parroting her teacher, she dutifully recites the absurd government regulations on cinema to Panahi, all of which are broken in the course of the film, just to be able to show the most basic things. Without being a critique of the government, Jafar Panahi's Taxi reveals the absurdities of living in a society under such rules.
This film opens today, at Landmark's E Street Cinema.