Take the Road by Panah Panahi

Photo: Kino Lorber

“Where are we?” “We’re Dead,” is an early, indicative exchange between mother and son in the surprisingly funny and ultimately provocative Take the road, the feature debut of Iranian writer and director Panah Panahi. Panahi’s father, Jafar, is an Iranian New Wave icon who, despite being banned in 2010 from making films in Iran and leaving the country for 20 years, continued to create underground art like the sneaky one from 2011 this is not a movie. This same feeling of rebellion also seems to inspire Panah, who Take the road veils its pointed critiques of Iran’s domestic politics with the discussions and disagreements of a family on a mysterious road trip. There is love between each member, which remains mostly unnamed – they are a father (Hassan Madjooni), a mother (Pantea Panahiha) and two sons, one of them in his twenties (Amin Siminar) and the other 6 years old. -old (Rayan Sarlak). But there is also an overwhelming sense of despair among them, and the balance that Panahi finds in Take the road is enveloping and devastating.

Take the road distributes information slowly, deliberately, and not too differently from an Asghar Farhadi script, with long conversations about philosophy and morality tucked alongside short, suggestive lines of dialogue about the family’s political or social views. When the film begins, the family is stopped on the road for a break, each member lost in their own world – the parents napping, the eldest son gazing at the mountains in the distance, the younger son playing with the leg cast from his father. . Panahi and cinematographer Amin Jafari (who previously worked together on the 2018 films 3 faces) place their camera inside the car and, through economical and safe pans and transitions between foreground and background, capture the fault lines that divide this family. They sit in self-imposed silence until the words “We’re dead” escalate the tension, and off they go.

There are no literal ghosts in Take the road, but figuratives are everywhere. Whatever specter inspired this road trip through the Iranian countryside, in which the boys’ mother worries about being tracked, the older son cries silently and the father and younger son argue behind the back, family feuds become vulgar, sarcastic, and a fun distraction in themselves. Their dog, Jessy, who Madjooni’s character swore he saw euthanized at the vet, returned home the next day and accompanied them on the trip. As the family rides, other travelers emerge from the fog shrouding Iran’s verdant mountains, then disappear into it, leaving behind only the putt-putt noise of their motorbikes or the smoke of their fires. of field. In some scenes, Panahi holds a photo of a character sitting alone in silence, but overlays audio of off-screen characters engaged in separate conversations, an opposing approach that is both distracting and grounding. Life stops for some and goes on for others, and who are we to say which one is worth it? What gives us, or anyone, that right?

Photo: Kino Lorber

To give too much would be to spoil the secret at the heart of Take the road, which the film delicately ignores for about the first half of its 94 minutes. Wide shots of landscape recall the work of Iranian film titan Abbas Kiarostami, while inside the cramped SUV, time passes through claustrophobic intimacy. The tale moves through the complicated dynamics of the family – more or less affectionate, jagged, overprotective and resentful – as their air of practiced normality crumbles. And while each actor gets a scene of their own, Madjooni and Sarlak are particularly excellent during a sequence that mixes experimental visuals (a spin on the intergalactic exploration of 2001: A Space Odyssey) with a long, silly conversation between a sardonic father and an anarchic son about how much money Batman spends maintaining the Batmobile. It’s a high/low moment evoking such a range of genuine emotions that you’ll be sure Take the road has nowhere to go, until Panahiha hijacks the film’s final act and imprints her character’s fury and angst on it.

There are few Take the road which reveals the intuitiveness of Panahi’s cinema, his understanding of these characters and how they pull and push each other, and his understanding of how fear, paranoia and loss transform us into people that we might not like, much less acknowledge. Given all this success, one of Take the roadThe only faux pas is its overly manipulative use of Payman Yazdanian’s piano score, which never quite feels right in a film that’s otherwise so self-assured (especially as it skims through the classics Iranian pre-revolution pop for the family to sing along to). In Farsi, the title of the film is Jade Khaki, which literally translates to “dirt road” – an artery open to travellers, but dirt, raw and unfinished. The choice to travel on it can be an act of intrusion or transformation, and Take the road honors the irreversibility of both.

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About Monty S. Maynard

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