Taxi Tehran, an Insightful Look at a Lively City

Any review of this film would be incomplete without mentioning the filmmaker, the circumstances under which he made this film, and how it was received. To begin with the latter, the 2015 Iranian film by Jafar Panahi, Taxi won the Golden Bear prize at the Berlin Film Festival the same year. Not surprising for a good film to win an award, right? There is a twist in the tale however, which requires a little to be said about Panahi, and his filmmaking career in Iran.

Regarded as one of the most influential filmmakers, Panahi’s first film was The White Balloon in 1995, which won the Camera d’Or at Cannes the same year. After multiple award winning films made in his unique style which depicted a humanistic perspective on life in Iran with underlying wit, Panahi was under scrutiny from the Iran government. He was arrested multiple times, and in 2010 was charged with the offence of propaganda against the Iranian Government. One only has to look at the synopses of his films to understand why, but I would recommend watching them. Despite being on house arrest and banned from making films for 20 years, the director couldn’t help making a film called ‘This is not a film’ which was smuggled to the Cannes film festival on a USB stick hidden in a cake! It is worth reading up on this film maker’s dedication to his natural talent of making films despite all odds and Taxi, the third film since his ban is another such example.

Watching Taxi with this context in mind just enhances every little witty aspect of it. There are various films that have been made that encompass a journey and a city, but nothing quite like this one. Made with hidden cameras in a cab, where the filmmaker is also the driver, Panahi manages to show us contemporary Tehran through the various characters that ride in the cab. Films one could say are windows to life in another part of the world, and this one shows us Tehran by seamlessly moving from one character to another.

There is no sign of cliché in any of the imaginative characters, including a pirated DVD seller, a woman who wants to record her dying husband’s will on a phone, two women who need to sell a fish by noon and the most special passenger – his chatty little niece. Special mention must be made of his real life niece (who also accepted the Golden Bear award on his behalf). Hana Saeidi’s performance shows her natural flair for acting and filmmaking through her annoyed banter with her uncle and attempt to convince a boy to act so she could make her film for class ‘distributable’. The dialogues and political ideas discussed by the passengers are insightful, naturalistic and interesting to someone who would otherwise find it hard to imagine life in Tehran.

The filming itself resembles a documentary realism style, which works well for this film. Jafar Panahi takes us on an unpredictable, insightful, amusing and quirky ride around Tehran in his Taxi.

Watching this film made me watch a few of his other films, with the aim of watching all of them.  One is left with a feeling of intrigue to see what trick this magician has up his sleeve for his next marvel, and hope that he continues to create and inspire through works like Taxi for a long time.

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