“Taxi” an interesting Iranian sociological stunt
In the first Jafar Panahi film that I watched, with the meta title “This Is Not a Film”, Iranian director Panahi is on house arrest for twenty years by the Iranian government, and he is mostly pacing around his house, talking about how bored he is and apparently trying to kill time. While it may have made some good points about Iran’s oppressive government, it was not very interesting. In fact, the film’s backstory was much more interesting. Panahi filmed himself on an iPhone, then put his footage onto a flash drive smuggled inside a birthday cake that was sent to the Cannes Film Festival. This whole process could have made a fascinating double-meta documentary.
I did not see “Closed Curtain”, Panahi’s following film, but “Taxi” is an interesting semi-documentary, in an even more confined space than “This Is Not a Film”. Until about the last scene, Panahi makes a point to never get out of the cab that he is driving. Basically, Panahi picks up a diverse assortment of passengers, posing as a cab driver. Despite being more confined than “This Is Not a Film”, “Taxi” is much more interesting and insightful.
“Taxi” is somewhat messy and meandering, since some of the actors are non-professional, and sometimes Panahi’s stunt comes off as contrived and stagy. The first scene is fascinating, showing two passengers in Panahi’s cab with two conflicting, yet familiar sounding, political ideologies. The man in the front recounts a story of a friend who got the tires of his car stolen and replaced with bricks, and says the guy should have been hanged; the woman in the back seat (which I assume was intentional) basically tells him that the man who stole the tires should have been helped instead of punished. They have an intense, fascinating, and somewhat petty argument that gives a taste of how social relations are in Iran.
Later in the film, Panahi picks up his daughter from what seems to be an arts school. She is about ten years old, and is taking a film class. Her film teacher tells her the rules of making a distributable film; she tells her father what the rules are, and this interaction speaks volumes, given Panahi’s trouble with the government for the films he directed. One of the caveats that stuck out to me was “no sordid realism”. His daughter finds this confusing, pointing out that people should not do things that they are not willing to show.
The “taxi” in the film seems metaphorical for Panahi’s confinement, showing how he can leave the confinement of his own house only to be even more confined in a taxi. The passengers are like his glimpse into the Iranian zeitgeist, only hearing bits and pieces, but never getting the full story. There is much to be said for the craft and thought that has been put into this film, especially given the small space Panahi had to work with.