A film about films and filmmaking and a filmmaker barred from making films by a filmmaker who worships films and is barred from making films, Jafar Panahi’s blissfully kind, effortlessly wise third feature since being sentenced to silence by the Iranian regime is an elegant, minor-key masterpiece. Taking the lead from his countryman Abbas Kiarostami who set “Ten” inside a car and largely confined “Taste of Cherry” to one, Panahi seats himself behind the wheel of a yellow cab, surveying the temperature of his society through frank conversations and freighted interactions with fellow citizens. It’s as self-referential as simple conversation. A female lawyer jokes, “Are you a cabbie now? You’re back in the driver’s seat?” but after talking about her fear of being silenced, says, “Better to remove my words from your movie.” A directing student asks Panahi what to make a film about. “I’ve seen movies, I’ve read books, but can’t find a good subject.” During this, they pass Western DVDs back and forth from the front seat to the back seat of the parked taxi. “Listen… those films are already made, those books are already written. You have to look elsewhere.” As in the film’s entirety, the city flows behind them: face, figure, story, incident, implication, a weft of ceaseless metaphor. “It won’t just come by itself,” he says. “What do I do? Where do I start?” the student asks. Panahi’s features mingle melancholy and bemusement. “That’s the hardest part. No one can tell you.” Of “Taxi” and his strange present career under a twenty-year sentence, Panahi has written, “I’m a filmmaker. I can’t do anything else but make films. Cinema is my expression and the meaning of my life. Nothing can prevent me from making films. Because when I’m pushed into the furthest corners I connect with my inner self. And in such private spaces, despite all limitations, the necessity to create becomes even more of an urge. Cinema as an art becomes my main preoccupation. That is the reason why I have to continue making films under any circumstances to pay my respects and feel alive.” The final sequence, like the first, is glimpsed through the car’s windshield, and is filled with incidental choreography and elemental beauty. It’s a sustained take with a long-stemmed rose at the bottom of the frame along the dashboard. A route through back streets. A traffic policeman stands beside a motorcycle. A rake of crows gyrates into and out of the frame like a sudden whirlwind, a sleek murder. An ugly whip pan, blackness, and the sound of a camera being hidden, the images being stolen. Black. Black. 82m. (Ray Pride)
“Taxi” opens Friday, October 28 at Siskel.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.