Review: Jafar Panahi Makes His Third Illegal Film With ‘Taxi’

Wesley Emblidge ‘17 / Emertainment Monthly Executive Editor

Photo Credit: Kino Lorber
One of the uncredited co-stars of Taxi alongside star/director Jafar Panahi. Photo Credit: Kino Lorber
Five years ago, controversial Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi’s country banned him from making movies for twenty years. Naturally, this year sees the release of Taxi, the third movie he’s made since the ban (previously were the equally fascinating This is Not a Film and Closed Curtain). His last two features blurred the line of documentary and fiction and stayed within the confines of his home, and while Taxi retains that genre mashup, this time Panahi takes us out into the streets of Tehran. Panahi himself drives a cab around the city, picking up a variety of odd characters, and, ultimately, giving us a compelling portrait of living in a city where the laws are so questionable that a filmmaker like him could be sent to prison for his work.
Raising those questions is a big part of the actions Iran has tried to censor with the ban, making Panahi’s direct defiance all the more satisfying. Two of the first passengers we meet are a man and woman arguing over how to properly punish criminals and what the right amount of empathy to feel towards another person is, a subject that is addressed again and again until the film’s end. They’re arguing about tire thieves, but Panahi himself is technically a criminal as well. The next passenger is a man illegally distributing “offensive” foreign films like Midnight in Paris. He’s the first passenger to recognize Panahi, and he works for the audience to figure out what the filmmaker is doing. Are these all actors? Is he making a documentary or a fiction film? We meet a film student struggling to come up with a subject for his project, and Panahi’s young niece shows up grappling with the country’s extreme censorship rules for her elementary school project. It isn’t just Panahi struggling here, and Taxi’s episodic structure gives us a wide view of the whole city struggling to retain culture.
Panahi's niece Hana Saeidi as herself in Taxi. Photo Credit: Kino Lorber
Panahi’s niece Hana Saeidi as herself in Taxi. Photo Credit: Kino Lorber
There’s a degree to which the severity of Panahi’s ban is somewhat questionable. If he’s able to make a movie like this, why isn’t he also able to make something normal in secret? After three movies starring himself, as himself, it may be time for Panahi to move past the ban and return to the kinds of films he used to make. But Taxi shows he still has more to say about it, and as long as that’s still true he’ll have no reason to stop. It’s not just another incredible work of defiance, but a funny, small movie that ends on a perfect note.
Overall Grade: B
Taxi hits Boston this Friday, October 30th at the Kendall Square Cinema.

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