REVIEW: “Jafar Panahi’s Taxi”

TAXI poster

It’s hard to gain full appreciation for Jafar Panahi’s latest film without knowing a bit about his personal story. Panahi cut his filmmaking teeth by working with the great Abbas Kiarostami. He showed himself to be a major component of the Iranian New Wave movement with his 1995 acclaimed film “The White Balloon”. But while recognized as a brilliant and highly influential filmmaker, Panahi quickly found himself in the crosshairs of the Iranian government.

In 2010 Panahi was arrested along with his wife and daughter. He was charged with making propaganda films against the Iranian government and for committing crimes which threatened national security. He was sentenced to six years of house arrest, was forbidden to leave the country, and was given a 20 year ban on making movies or documentaries. Despite his steep sentencing, Panahi has continued to secretly make films and address many of his society’s ills.

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“Taxi” is another bold movie where Panahi makes clever use of his obvious constraints. All conventional methods of filmmaking are out the window yet “Taxi” feels just as revealing and just as organic. It is basically a documentary but with a sly touch of drama. Its main focus is to show the varying degrees of life, personalities, ideals, hardships, and persecution in modern day Tehran society.

Panahi does this by simply posing as a cab driver. He drives around Tehran picking up as assortment of people and filming their conversations through carefully placed dash-cams. They cover all age groups, male and female, and come from a variety of unique (and sometimes troubling) perspectives. None are trained professional actors, but each offer some truly compelling insight into elements of the culture that Panahi clearly wants people talking about.

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Panahi’s interaction with the people is often fascinating. Some are just quirky individuals who he allows to carry on. Take a fellow who sells pirated DVDs. At one point he actually recognizes Panahi, but that doesn’t stop him from his shady dealings. Other characters unknowingly offer Panahi the opportunity to indict certain mindsets without the director saying a word.

There are some interactions that feel a bit too scripted even though they have strong messages, and there are a couple of moments where the pacing sputters a bit. But at the same time “Taxi” always kept my attention, and it had me absorbing every encounter to find how they fit with Panahi’s vision. This wasn’t an easy project to pull off, but its strengths testify to the brilliance of its maker.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

4 Stars

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22 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Jafar Panahi’s Taxi”

  1. Yay! You liked it too! I have nothing but respect and admiration for Jafar Panahi. I gave it a super high score in my review 🙂 Ooh fun fact, did you know he hid his last film ‘This is not a film’ (typical Panahi lol) inside a cake that was flown to Cannes?

  2. I like that show when the cab driver asks them questions and they get money for it and the cab lights up, but I can’t stand to watch this one.

  3. Nice review Keith. One of my favorite films of 2015 and it really goes to show the importance of free speech. Panahi’s one of the best filmmakers working today and as you said it almost works as a documentary.

    • Thanks man. Really crafty filmmaking here (and I mean that in a very good way). And it is incredibly impressive that despite the limitations he could put out such a compelling and insightful film. It is eye-opening but cleverly inspiring, wouldn’t you say?

  4. This was in my favourites list from last year, so it’s great to see some more praise for it. Panahi seems like such an affable chap, doesn’t he? I think under the circumstances he’s making really vibrant, essential work that highlights the stupidity of his ban as well as – perhaps more importantly – the oppression of culture and of dissenting voices in his homeland. This was great, and I could have stood another hour of it, for sure.

    • Oh I could too. I wish he had kept going. He plays such a passive and subtle role in the film but his voice is strong and profound. And I’m kind of blown away by his courage and conviction.

  5. Man I had the opportunity to watch this via an online screener but for some reason I lost the enthusiasm to watch it and am not sure if I can get the link back. But maybe some day. I am really impressed with what Panahi has been able to do here, even just reading your review and a few others. It’s such a shame what has happened to him at the hands of the oppressive Iranian govt, but he’s really making some good lemonade here out of some huge lemons.

  6. I’ve only seen one film by Jafar Panahi in Offside which I think is an incredible film as I want to see more including this one and This is Not a Film. I love the fact that he’s got the sheer balls to continue making movies no matter the constraints he’s been given. It’s as if someone takes this away from him and he’ll do something else with whatever he has. That is BALLS.

    • He is courageous and inspirational. You’re right, it is as if he feels compelled to make movies and no manner of injustice will keep him from it. But you also sense his intense passion for the society ills he sees. Strong stuff.

      • I think if he was given $100 million to make a film, it would be terrible. I prefer those who know what they don’t need. After all, art is not supposed to safe. Panahi knows that very well. Cameron Crowe doesn’t and that’s why Aloha fucking sucked!

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