Iranian film director Jafar Panahi is the living epitome of bravery. In 2010, he was sentenced to six years imprisonment and given a 20-year ban on film-making by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary court after being charged with producing anti-government propaganda. He was eventually placed under house arrest and, undeterred by his country’s oppressive measures, succeeded in making the remarkable This is Not a Film — a subtle work of artistic defiance — using a digital camera in his apartment, which was subsequently copied onto a USB stick and smuggled out of Iran in a cake.
Since then, Panahi has been allowed to venture outside the confines of his home with his spirit of defiance still intact. In Taxi Tehran, his latest piece of outstanding guerrilla film-making, we find Panahi posing as a driver of a yellow taxi fitted with secret cameras as he spends an afternoon picking up and dropping off a diverse cross-section of Tehran’s residents, both young and old.
Over the course of the film’s modest 82 minute running time, Panahi offers the viewer a revealing glimpse into the everyday societal challenges faced by Panahi and his passengers. From arguments over Sharia law to conversations which show the true extent of state repression in Iran, Panahi provides cutting political and social commentary, all the while wearing a cheerful, and at times wry, smile that manages to convey genuine hope and compassion to his fellow compatriots.
Interestingly, Panahi’s film occupies an intermediate space between art and real life which the director playfully explores. As passengers enter and exit the taxi, we are never 100% sure whether each episode has been cleverly staged with actors complicit in the shoot or if we are truly witnessing a genuine slice of Iranian life. At one point, Taxi Tehran even goes completely self-reflexive when Panahi engages in a conversation with Omid, a peddler of bootleg DVDs who not only distributes banned Hollywood movies, but also Panahi’s very own films to Tehran’s local film viewers.
Taxi Tehran is an act of artistic dissent par excellence made with wit and invention by a truly courageous man living the experience of an exile within his very own country.
By Robin Davies