A yellow cab is driving through the vibrant and colourful streets of Tehran. Very diverse passengers enter the taxi, each candidly expressing their views while being interviewed by the driver who is no one else but the director Jafar Panahi himself. His camera placed on the dashboard of his mobile film studio captures the spirit of Iranian society through this comedic and dramatic drive…
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★★★★★ review by Chris Elena on Letterboxd
I think my heart exploded with joy maybe 18 times throughout Panahi's TAXI.
But that moment with the woman handing a rose to the audience..
★★★½ review by Mike D'Angelo on Letterboxd
I no longer understand exactly what the strictures placed on Panahi amount to, given that he can apparently drive all over Tehran picking up actors. Still, given the potential for an entirely cab-set film to be even more claustrophobic than his last two, it's kind of exhilarating to see him working overtime to entertain. The first half, in particular, verges on rapid-fire sketch comedy, with a new passenger introducing a new complication every few minutes; Panahi aggressively eschews the naturalistic lulls and longueurs that Kiarostami favors in moving vehicles, keeping things sharp and snappy. Despite all the welcome showmanship, however, at its core this is yet another movie complaining (understandably) about Iranian film censorship, and the home stretch gets a tad whiny à la Closed Curtain. Having a cute little girl read the country's super-sized Hays Code aloud, and then struggle herself to shoot a film (on her phone) that doesn't violate it, does at least put a humorous spin on the self-pity, for which I'm grateful. But if he can make this, surely he can make a movie that's not about his inability to make a movie.
★★★½ review by matt lynch on Letterboxd
★★★★½ review by Debbie on Letterboxd
Jafar Panahi’s Tehran Taxi is an astonishing and heart-warming film, made particularly special after learning of Panahi’s international reputation as a director banned from making films by his country. Its documentary-like style contextualises Panahi’s desire to showcase a reality in a cinematic space, the very act restricted by the censorship imposed upon Iranian cinema. While it commentates on critical political discourse, Panahi’s secretly-made illegal venture is funny, surprisingly light-hearted and exceptional.
The opening take of the film sets the tone of Tehran Taxi – and offers a glimpse of Tehran through the windscreen of a taxi. It is a patient take, of people crossing the road, activities on the side of the streets – the normal hustle and bustle of a city. Through a camera on his dashboard, which he disguises as a ‘surveillance camera’, Panahi drives a taxi through the city, picking up passengers on the way.
Of these passengers, is a bootlegger of American films claiming he sold Once Upon a Time in Anatolia to Panahi himself, an injured man with his wife, a pair of women who obsess over the spirituality of releasing their fish into a lake, and Panahi’s own niece, who is attempting to craft her own short film for class. Some of these characters seem as absurdist as they sound, but Panahi presents them as part of the optimistic spirit of the city of Tehran. The role of Panahi’s niece is especially intriguing – she is instructed to make a film which avoids 'sordid realism', listing a set of rules, which must be followed – censorship rules which have limited Panahi’s freedoms as a film-maker. The alternation between his niece’s shaky camera, to his more-steady yet still amateur taxi dashboard camera, makes intellectual insights on the effects of censorship upon the fabrication of real-life situations.
Tehran Taxi’s verge on documentary realism offers commentary on the way Iranian cinema limits authentic representation. Even when lines are blurred between fiction and reality, the film is soaked in authenticity, which makes Panahi’s effort both touchingly entertaining, and hopeful for a time when he will be able to make films and travel the world freely.
Full review published here: www.arts.unsw.edu.au/newsroom/opinion/unsw-sff-blogger-review-tehran-taxi/
★★★★ review by Michael Scott on Letterboxd
For an artist under a state-imposed filmmaking ban, Iranian director Jafar Panahi has no right to make a film as funny, as celebratory and as personally generous as Taxi. The world should thank the director's boundless soul and cinematic wherewithal that he can and that he has.
Riffing on both his current situation and Kiarostami's Ten, Panahi has taken to driving a taxi around Tehran, filming as he goes. Conspicuously, his passengers have a spark of poetry about them, as if they have somehow been drawn out of one of the director's own films. It isn't until one of them recognises both Panahi and the scenario playing out beside him that the whole conceit is blown. Or is it just getting more intricate?
Taxi is awash with self-depricating referentiality, generally in the service of unpacking the artistic confines Panahi finds himself in. Humour has rarely been used with such poignancy, with Panahi able to skewer his notoriety one moment and his traumatic prison torture the next.
The constant influx of tightly controlled but airily performed passengers allow for regular shifts in the film's tone, which Panahi modulates effortlessly from the drivers seat. The possible exception is the director's niece (or the actor who plays his niece), who has a hint of "child star" about her, which throws the chemistry off ever so slightly. That said, she is a superb foil for Panahi's denunciation of censorship.
There are too many moments, too glorious to describe in words. Taxi really is a film that should be given over to. No directions needed. The continued delights, thrown up by Panahi's beautiful contrivances and captured within the cabin of his four-wheeled film studio, repeatedly surprise and frequently move.
Incredibly personal, artistically inventive and exceptionally defiant, Taxi is a remarkable addition to the work of a filmmaker who refuses to bow to the injustice metered out to him and to his country by the powers that be. A supremely generous piece of cinema.
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