I can’t say enough good things about Jafar Panahi’s Taxi…it’s a film that well repays the time you spend viewing it.
I can’t say enough good things about Jafar Panahi’s Taxi (also known as Taxi Tehran, either title serving to differentiate it from the 2004 American film Taxi, which starred Queen Latifah) and of all the disappointments of this past Oscar season, the lack of recognition by the Academy for this film has to be at the top of the list. Fortunately, Hollywood is only one corner of the film world, and Jafar Panahi’s Taxi has done very well elsewhere. Most notably, it won both the Golden Bear (best film) and the FIPRESCI Prize (given by the international film critics association of the same name) at the 2015 Berlin International Film Festival. It also made a lot of critics’ “Best of 2015” lists (including mine), so that just goes to show you that the Oscars are not the be-all and end-all when it comes to film. If you missed Jafar Panahi’s Taxi when it was in theaters, you can now catch up with it at home, and it’s a film that well repays the time you spend viewing it.
It’s remarkable that this film exists at all, since in 2010 the Iranian government banned Panahi from making films for 20 years. Since then, he has produced the documentary This Is Not a Film (2011), the feature film Closed Curtain (2013), and now Jafar Panahi’s Taxi (2015), a feature film that looks like a documentary. The latter film was shot using several fixed cameras inside a taxi cab which Panahi drives through the streets of Tehran, recording an apparent work day as he picks up passengers and takes them to their destinations. But every passenger is interesting, and each makes a different contribution to the film, neither of which strikes me as typical of a cabbie’s day, so my conclusion upon first viewing was that Jafar Panahi’s Taxi is in fact a feature film intended to look like a documentary. A little detective work produced more evidence supporting my theory—Panahi is listed as writer as well as director, the film was shot over 15 days, and the passengers were played by non-professional actors whose names were suppressed in order to protect them.
The back story may make Jafar Panahi’s Taxi sound like medicine—a worthy exercise that must be endured—but nothing could be further from the truth. It’s full of colorful characters, interesting philosophical conversations, and glimpses of life in contemporary Iran. Political points are made, but ever so subtly, and never in a way that imposes on the human stories being told. The passengers include a young couple who debate how the justice system should deal with thieves, a DVD bootlegger who supplies foreign films and television programs to those willing and able to pay for them, a man who has been seriously injured in a traffic accident, two elderly women on a mission involving goldfish, Panahi’s niece Hana (a very articulate and determined young lady, if this film is any indication), who is shooting a film for school, and human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh. They all have a lot to say, and while each sequence is self-contained, together they make up a collective portrait of modern Tehran.
The only extras are the film’s trailer and liner notes including an essay (aptly titled “The Art of Defiance”) by film scholar Jamsheed Akrami. | Sarah Boslaugh