This Is Not a Cab Driver: JAFAR PANAHI’S TAXI Film Review

By at November 22, 2015 | 3:08 pm | Print

4.5 / 5 stars

Jafar Panahi Taxi Movie Poster

For the second time in his career, the famously outspoken director Jafar Panahi has made a film with an uncredited cast and crew. He had to. Since the Iranian government banned him from filmmaking in 2010, Panahi has made his culturally poignant films in secret, and protected those that contribute. If you’re not familiar with Panahi, you’d expect to see an angry artist, like an Ai Weiwei. Instead, this man at the forefront of creative freedom is calm and quietly observant, a persona that’s oddly comforting. That zen is present on screen in Taxi, as is Panahi’s remarkable ingenuity and consistently sharp sense of narrative.

For those who love a good meta commentary, Taxi is practically a guidebook. Panahi, playing himself, drives a cab through Tehran, with his “fares” as the cast of characters, and it takes a little while to take in the fictional nature of it all. The structure on its own is competent, but Panahi elevates it by twisting the story in on itself in careful, satisfying ways.

After two passengers argue about capital punishment and then leave the car, a third admits that he recognizes Panahi. He gleefully tells the director that this must be the making of a film, and that those passengers must be actors. How is he so sure? Because he recognized a line from Panahi’s Cannes award-winner Crimson Gold while the passengers were debating.

Crimson Gold (which Panahi discusses in detail in his illegal This Is Not a Film) is not the only Panahi movie mentioned inside the taxi. The director’s school-age niece compares herself to the girl in The Mirror. An acquaintance says a woman’s recent detention reminds her of Panahi’s Offside. These nuggets are little gifts to fans and admirers, and potent reminders that art sustains on screen and in discussion, despite rules against it. (Side note: It’s known that the niece is played by Panahi’s real-life niece, who accepted Taxi‘s Berlin Film Festival grand prize on Panahi’s behalf.)

Taxi celebrates innovative ways to tell a story, just as This Is Not a Film does, with methods both physically creative and enormously relevant. How do you film on location – and act in the movie – and not get caught? By shooting entirely from the inside of a car.

Jafar Panahi in Taxi

There’s obviously a dashboard camera, which we see Panahi adjust to capture certain action… but there’s clearly another camera pointed at him. And another in the backseat. The director blurs the point-of-view between the “known” cameras we can see, and the ones we can’t, once again blending fiction and documentary both narratively and technically. Panahi even figures out a way to leave the film and still continue the story. (Twice.)

Panahi’s most direct indictment of the Iranian system comes by way of a conversation with his niece. She tells her uncle about a list she’s received in film class, directions every student should follow to produce a “distributable” movie. (Panahi, whose films have been smuggled out of the country, gets a good chuckle.) Of course, every stifling item on the list is offensive to Panahi, so he asks his young charge how those rules would force her to adjust events that have happened in Taxi. It’s then we realize the movie has subtly referenced different film genres along the ride, Panahi having added another layer to his important, quietly brilliant work.

Aka Taxi Tehran; Taxi (Jafar Panahi’s)

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