Jafar Panahi

(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

7.0 White Balloon (1995)
7.8 The Mirror (1997)
7.1 Crimson Gold (2003)
7.1 The Circle (2000)
6.0 Offside (2006)
7.1 This Is Not a Film (2011)
7.2 Closed Curtain (2013)
7.5 Taxi (2015)
7.3 Three Faces (2018)

Jafar Panahi

Badkonake Sefid/ White Balloon (1995) is a rather somber domestic drama (with a fairy-tale ending) that actually hides a parable on the psychological lure of money. The girl is prisoner of the money that she needs to buy her gift. The adults have attitudes towards her money that they don't have towards their own: no adult offers to buy the gift for her, some adults don't want to help because they think the matter is irrelevant (but their own money is not), and some even try to take it from her. In the background we can also guess a dysfunctional family. We never see the children's father but we can guess that he is not a model of paternal love.

The first scene shows musicians entering a barber shop and we hear a radio broadcast announcing the time remaining before the New Year (hours). Sellers crowd the narrow alley in which a woman is looking anxiously for her daughter. She is carrying two bags of groceries. She finds the little girl, Razieh, and, after a little scolding, tells her to follow her home. At home the girl cries because she wants a golfish from the market. The mother refuses because they have a whole fountain full of goldfish. In fact, a kid from the neighbors come to fish some out for himself. Her brother Ali brings soap instead of shampoo to their father who is bathing downstairs. The man gets angry and sends him to buy shampoo again. The radio again tells us how much time is left to New Year. When the boy comes back, the girl begs him to help her buy the goldfish. She makes a deal with her brother, he gets the money from their mother, and she runs to the market with a bowl to buy goldfish. On the way she stops to watch some snake enchanters and they think the money is for them. It takes a while for her to claim her money back and for the charlatans to give it back to her. Then she stops for a second to look at a bakery and loses her money. The goldfish seller tells her the price, which is twice what she expected anyway, and of course does not sell her the goldfish without seeing the money first. A kind lady helps the girl retrace her steps until she finds her money but a motorcycle just then sends it into the grate of a cellar. The kind lady asks the shopowner next door, a taylor, to open the cellar for the girl and leaves her there, but the taylor is very busy on New Year's Eve and is arguing with an unhappy customer. The little girl runs to the goldfish seller to make sure he won't sell her favorite goldfish but he puts in the bowl one of the less valuable ones. It is now less than one hour to the New Year. She runs back to the taylor store. The taylor is still upset about his argument with the young customer and is being consoled by friends. She tries in vain to get his attention. He just tells her that the cellar is not his, and the owner is out of town for a week. Just then her brother shows up, with a big bruise on his cheek (probably a punishment from his father for having made some other mistake). Her brother is not any more successful with the taylor. The boy tries to borrow a rod from the taylor but it doesn't work. The taylor closes his shop and goes home for the holiday, telling the kids to come back in a week time to talk to the shop owner who is on vacation. The boy runs after him and asks him for the address of the shop owner. All the shops are closing. She is sitting alone on top of the grate where her money is buried. A young man dressed like a soldier approaches her and tells her that the shopowner is at his sister-in-law's place, far away. He tells her that he is stuck in town because he doesn't have enough money to buy a bus ticket. She has been taught not to talk to strangers but he lures her into conversation. They are finally interrupted when the boy returns and then the soldier gets picked up by a military jeep. The boy keeps thinking of using a rod to pull the banknote out. When he sees an Afghan boy selling balloons tied to a rod, he can't resist: he takes the rod from his hands. The Afghan boy reacts by beating him up and calling him a thief. When he understands what is going on, the Afghan boy tries to help but the stick doesn't work. The boy runs to buy chewing gum and runs back to try his theory: stick the chewing gum to the top of the stick and use it to pull up the banknote. They keep trying in vain. Just then the shopowner shows up: someone gave him the boy's message. But they don't need his help: the boy succeeds in pulling out the money. The children run home where their mother is probably very worried and leave the Afghan boy alone, holding one lonely white balloon.

Ayneh/ Mirror (1997) is a comedy of sorts, but the comedy is not the story that is being told in the film, it's in the way the film-making process itself gets bungled. Once the fiction is revealed, the director keeps toying with the viewer's viewpoint, making us aware of the presence of the camera and of the microphone, and of the fact that someone is constantly following the girl who is "lost". It is also indirectly a meditation on reality: the camera keeps filming even when we can't see the girl, even when we can't hear what is going on, and even when the camera films (basically) itself filming what is going on (when they have to decide how to continue the film, or when a traffic guard stops them in the middle of a street). The first half, incidentally, belongs with the great realist Iranian cinema. It is a compelling portrait of ordinary life in the apocalyptic traffic of the Iranian metropolis. At the beginning we repeatedly see an old man trying to cross a street and giving up. On the bus we hear stories that mirror the concerns of millions of families. The portrait of the stubborn girl is no less powerful, taken by itself: she is sure that she will make it home, and this feels totally epic as the realistic scenes slowly makes us "feel" how big that city is and how small that girl is. The longer we follow the better we appreciate the sheer size of the territory that she has to explore, on her own, with no help from stranger who are either not willing (too busy) or not capable.

We can hear the live broadcast of a soccer match between the national teams of Iran and South Korea. Girls comes out of an elementary school. Their parents pick them up, except one: a little girl with a cast on her left arm. She waits in vain. Her mother never comes. Eventually she crosses the street (a dangerous feat in Tehran) and calls her mom, but there is no answer. People are mostly indifferent to this little girl left alone who crosses a dangerous street back and forth. She asks the caretaker of the school for help. A stranger offers to give her a ride to the bus stop hoping that the girl can recognize how to get home by herself from there. While riding in the back of his motorcycle she tells him that her mother is pregnant of a boy, and that she hasn't gone to work for a week. She gets off hoping to find her mom on the usual bus, but with no luck. On the bus she listens to a woman reading the palm of another woman. She thinks she sees her mom in the street and asks to get off the bus, but, by the time the bus stops, her mom is nowhere to be seen, and she runs back to the same bus. She keeps hearing the gossip of the women. The bus reaches the terminus and everybody gets off except her. She starts crying. She describes the place where she needs to get off to the bus driver, It's a bit vague, but the bus driver asks another bus driver to give her a ride to the main square. While they are riding, the child suddenly stops talking and looks upset. Then she takes her cast off and starts shouting that... she's tired of acting. Suddenly we see the crew of the film trying to convince the child to act again the role she's supposed to act in the film while the child screams that she's had enough of making a film.
Now we see the camera and the passengers of the bus are revealed to be actors. A woman gets off the bus with the child, Mina, and tries to soothe her, but Mina is really upset. They try in vain to bring her back. Then the director (Panahi himself) has an idea: let her go home and let's just follow her with the camera. She doesn't know that she still has the microphone on her and therefore they can tape everything she says. They move from the bus to a car. She starts running on the sidewalk but she doesn't really know where to go. She asks random people and even a taxi cab but her description of her destination is so vague that nobody can help her. She meets again an elderly woman who was on the bus and realizes that she not acting: someone gave her money to board that bus and then they took her back to the same bench in the park, but what she was saying on the bus to another passenger is her real life. She enters another phone booth, climbs to grab the receiver and calls home again. Her mom is not there but her older brother answers.
She begs him to come and get her, but she cannot describe where she is before she runs out of time. She keeps running and getting on and off shared taxis, but the result is that she's getting more and more lost in the big chaotic cities. All the time we are aware that the film crew is following her, and therefore someone knows where she is and she's not in real danger, but she doesn't know this and therefore her anxiety is real. There is an obvious degree of cruelty in what is going on: the film crew letting her get more and more worried. Mina boards yet another shared taxi and this time she spends enough time in it that we can follow the conversation among the passengers (it's about the condition of women). When the taxi turns into a narrow alley, the car with the film crew tries to make an invalid turn and is stopped by a traffic guard: we see the traffic guard chatting with the car's driver. When the filming of the girl's taxi resumes, we are fully aware that we are seeing what the film crew is seeing from their car.
She gets off the taxi in a neighborhood that looks familiar and recognizes a traffic guard who once gave her father a ticket for a traffic violation. The traffic guard is busy but she keeps asking him to remember her father so he can direct her to her home. Eventually the officer leaves his post and takes her to a mechanic shop where her father had to take his car. Another long conversation follows with the people at the car repair shop. They would like to take her back to her school, but she runs away and finally recognizes someone: the very shop owner who introduced her to the film crew. He is surprised that she has run away. She doesn't want to talk and, realizing she's still wearing it, gives him the microphone. As she walks out, we hear the voices of the customers inside his shop but not the sounds of what Mina is doing. The camera is still following Mina as she sprints towards her home and climbs to ring the bell, but we keep hearing the voices at the shop.
Meanwhile, the voice of the soccer commentator congratulates the national team for beating South Korea 6-2 in what was a memorable game (at one point Iran was losing). That game was obviously being followed by the crew themselves. We hear it in shops and in the street but also because occasionally we hear what is going on in the crew's car.
Mina made it home safely after all. Now the crew debates how to end the film. They send the same shop owner who originally hired her for them to talk to her. He rings the bell, she comes out. The microphone shuts down so we cannot hear the conversation, but the man comes back and tells the film crew that Mina does not want to complete the film. The shop owner offers to find another girl of the same age group so they can end the film, but the director says "no" and the film ends.

Deyereh/The Circle (2000)

Talaye Sorkh/ Crimson Gold (2003), written by Abbas Kiarostami, is a crime drama about the trauma caused in a simple-minded detached observer by the wealth and decadence of a changing society. The theme is a little old-fashioned, but the setting is original enough to grant it yet another life.

A big man robs a jewelry store. The camera stares through the door at a motorcyclist waiting outside, while we hear the voices of the robber and of the store owner. A car parks in front of the store and a woman walks out of it and into the store. She screams, Hussein (the robber) shoots. The alarm goes off and the gate closes automatically, trapping Hussein inside. A small crowd of onlookers form outside while they wait for the police. Hussein demolishes the store and then shoots himself.
A flashback shows Hussein and his friend Ali, whose sister is promised to Hussein. They are both pizza delivery boys, tempted by crime. Ali has just found a purse and they sit at a cafe to examine it. The only thing they find inside is a golden ring and a receipt for an expensive necklace. A middle-aged man sits at their table and gives them professional advice about becoming pickpockets. Following the address on the receipt, the two friends walk to a jewelry store, but they are not even admitted inside. Clearly, they don't look like rich customers. The owner sends them to the bazaar. Hussein is offended.
Hussein is a good man, but his brain is a little slow. His boss complains with Ali that Hussein's performance is low. Hussein delivers a pizza to a wealthy man, who doesn't recognize him, but they used to be in the war together. Now one is wealthy and the other one delivers pizzas. Another delivery fails because the police have surrounded the building and they stop Hussein. There is a party at the second floor and the police want to arrest all the young people who go in or come out. Hussein insists that he needs to do his job, but the chief tells him to sit down. Hussein sees several young people arrested and chats with one of the soldiers. They can hear the music, and they can see the shapes of the people dancing at the second floor. Hussein, bored, decides to offer the pizza to the officers.
Hussein and his fiance' dress up and, accompanied by Ali, visit the jewelry store to buy a necklace for the wedding. The store clerk lets them in, and they spend some time looking at the various items. The store owner doesn't even recognize them, as he is busy with some very rich customers. When he finally turns to them, he humiliates them again: he tells them to go to the bazaar where they can find cheaper deals. Hussein almost faints. He rides back home without saying a word. His fiance' is afraid that she caused the embarassment, but he was offended by the store owner.
Hussein lives in a small room. He is not young anymore, and has a simple life. He never smiles.
One of the delivery boys is struck by a car. Hussein and Ali see his damaged and motorcycle and the blood on the asphalt. Hussein is on his way to a high-rise building of luxury apartments. The customer is a rich young man, son of American emigrants, who is lonely after his girlfriend and a friend of hers left abruptly. The young man invites Hussein to join him and eat the pizzas with him. In return, he only asks for Hussein to listen to him. When his girlfriend calls, the young man forgets about his guest and starts talking at length to her. Hussein drinks alcohol and wanders around the house, the pool, the gym, the terrace.
Morning. The camera inside the jewelry store stares outside as the store owner opens the gate and as the two friends arrive on a motorcycle. Ali waits outside, while Hussein surprises the store owner.

Offside (2006)

This Is Not a Film/ In Film Nist (2011) is actually a film about the film's director. Panahi was banned from making films and sentenced to sux years in jail. He appealed the sentence while under house arrest and made this film at home while waiting for the final verdict. Except that it is not clear who made the film: in this film someone else tapes Panahi making (and physically acting) the film, so... is the director in this film the director of the film or is he just an actor at the service of Panahi? Panahi toys as usual with the very structure of cinema and with the notion of acting. One is not even sure which film we are watching: the film of Panahi confined at home or the film of Maryam, the protagonist of a film that Panahi was not allowed to shoot and the film that Panahi is now telling us about. The film is set against the backdrop of the failed revolution against the Islamic dictatorship and also, involuntarily, provides a voyeur's peek into the private life of the rich middle class of Iran that lives in large apartments and owns the latest model of foreign smartphone (not exactly what one expects in a country that has been under international sanctions for many years). While not as powerful as Mirror, this is still an amusing postmodernist meditation on the process of film-making.

A man is calmly making his breakfast. He tells a friend over the phone to come as soon as possible and not to tell anyone. We hear it because the phone is on speakerphone. Then, when the man has left the room, we hear the answering machine go off (again it's on speakerphone): the parents are calling simply to tell him what they are going to do and to remind him to feed his daughter's iguana. As the message ends, Panahi walks towards the camera, and the camera shakes, as if he grabbed it.
Back to the first man, we hear him talk to his (female) attorney and we realize that he is the film's director himself, Panahi. He is waiting to hear if the court of appeals will confirm the sentence that has banned him from making films and sent him to jail for six years. The attorney hopes that the punishment will be somehow reduced by the judge but she is certain that he will have to spend some time in jail. She explains that the procedure is not judician in nature, but political, and so it is difficult for her to make more accurate predictions.
Panahi now faces the camera and tells us (the audience) that it is time to "take off the cast". This is a reference to the film "Mirror" in which a little girl who was acting takes off the cast from her arm and shouts that she doesn't want to act anymore. We see that scene and then the camera shows that we watched it on Panahi's television screen.
Now he starts talking to somene and we realize that his friend has already come and is actually filming what we are seeing (from the titles we will learn that he is filmmaker Mojtaba Mirtahmasb). Panahi tells him that he was denied the authorization to make a film and would like to simply tape himself narrating the script so that the world can at least get a feeling of what the film was supposed to be like. He makes tea for the guest and jokes that he has been banned from making films but not from reading screenplays. Someone else is directing this film, so it is perfectly legal.
The story is about a girl from a low-income and very traditional family. The girl applied to university and was accepted but her family is determined not to let her get the degree so they physically lock her in her room to make sure she will not be able to enroll. Panahi moves to another room of his house and asks us to imagine that it is the house of the girl. In fact, he has cell phone footage of the place that he had chosen for this movie, and he shows us what he had in mind. We just begun to sympathyze with Maryam's story, who is so helpless and desperate that she even considers suicide, that Panahi, discouraged, drops the manuscript and walks away, almost in tears.
After staring briefly from the window at some construction going on across the street, Panahi sits down and starts talking about his own films. Then the camera follows his daughter's giant iguana. He plays with it while browsing the web and complaining that most of the websites are banned. Meanwhile the iguana keeps walking around the room. The cell phone rings and the iguana's movements constitute a comic counterpoint to the discussion about his legal troubles. Panahi now shows his friend the photos of two girls that he had selected to play the role of Maryam. He is ready to resume narrating and miming the screenplay from the point where Maryam falls in love with a boy but the boy is actually a secret agent paid to spy on her. Then suddenly loud noises distract him. He walks to the window and films what is happening with his cell phone, and it sounds like mere fireworks. He turns on the tv set and watches the news: we see news of the tsunami of 2011 in Japan. The news that he was looking for begins just when a neighbor rings the bell and asks him to take care of her dog while she goes out to see the fireworks. The tv is saying that Iran's dictator has declared fireworks to be "unreligious". The dog starts barking loudly at the iguana and Panahi hands it back to the owner. A friend calls (again, we heard his voice on speakrphone) saying that, besides the fireworks, there are armed men around. Panahi watches the fireworks and the camera stands next to him. His friend calls again to say that there are police checkpoints and that traffic is crazy. Bored, Panahi uses his phone to film the friend who is filming him (Mojtaba Mirtahmasb). As his friend is leaving, a boy walks in to pick up the trash. Panahi keeps shooting with his cell phone and the garbage boy gets excited. After a little chat Panahi trades his cell phone for the professional camera that his friend has left rolling on the table (we see Panahi walking towards the room, and we realize the film is switching from the cell phone to the professional camera). Intuition must have prompted the artist in Panahi that this is worth filming. Panahi follows the boy in the elevator, the camera still rolling, as they go floor by floor picking up garbage. Initially, the boy is nervous but he soon becomes talkative, enjoying the privilege of being filmed by a famous filmmaker. Most families are not home, probably outside enjoying the fireworks. The boy and the camera finally reach the lobby and the camera follows the boy in the courtyard. Outside there is a riot going on: people are making bonfires, probably protesting against the regime.

Pardeh/ Closed Curtain (2013)

Taxi (2015) turns a taxi into a movie studio. The whole film is filmed by a camera mounted on the dashboard. More than a tour of Tehran the film turns out to be a tour of people who commit crimes of all sorts. The film also shows how everybody has become a filmmaker or a film seller or a film watcher.

The film opens with the view of the street from the windshield. After two passengers enter the taxi, the camera turns towards them and we see them arguing about how to punish thieves who steal from ordinary people: the man, who doesn't disclose his job, wants them executed, the woman, who is a teacher, wants them educated. We still don't see the driver. When the man walks out, the driver doesn't want to be paid. The man gets out and tell the woman that he is a thief himself: he just doesn't like thieves who steal from poor people. The next passenger, after the woman has left too, recognizes the driver (and now we see him): the famous director Panahi himself, who is a banned in Iran from making films (therefore he is committing a crime). Omid is excited: he used to bring videos to Panahi's house, videos that are banned in Iran or illegally copied. In other words, he's a criminal too. Suddenly men stop the car: a man injured in an accident needs to be transported immediately to the hospital. His wife is crying and screaming. The man begs Panahi to make a video while he dictates his last will. Mohamadi loses consciousness when he finishes dictating it to the camera. Omid also filmed everything on his smartphone. As they leave the hospital, Panahi smiles: he doesn't think the man is seriously injured. The wife, however, calls him immediately to make sure he has filmed the husband's last will. Omid delivers the videos to a young man who is studying filmmaking. Two women beg for a ride because they are running late, but then their conversation reveal that the life-threatening emergency is about a silly goldfish legend. Next he picks up his niece Hana at school (the director's real-life niece). She is mad at him because she told her friends that the famous director was picking her up but he showed up too late. He is mad at her because she didn't answer the phone, but she tells her that she did it to increase the chances that he would show up, worrying for her safety. She's a smart girl. She has to make a short film as a school project and decides to film their conversation (the third camera in the film). She has already made a documentary, filming a family dispute that she witnessed. Panahi stops the car to meet with an old friend, the first time in the film that he leaves the car. They walk back to Panahi's car and talk about some deal. The friend doesn't want Panahi to see who is in his car, obviously an illegal affair (hence, another criminal). Hana is escorted to a cafe while the friend shows Panahi a video captured by his store's security camera (the fourth camera in the film): two thieves robbed him and hit him with a club, causing an injury that still hasn't healed. The friend recognized a couple he knew and didn't have the heart to turn them on to the authorities after hearing of a wave of executions. A waiter brings them two drinks. When he leaves, the friend tells Panahi that the waiter is the thief (another criminal). The friend lives in their old neighborhood, and they are both nostalgic that everything has changed. The friend leaves and sends back Hana who has been drinking in the thief's cafe. Ironically, when Hana gets back into the car, she tells Panahi that the waiter is a nice man. She lectures him about making films and keeps filming him. When he steps out to use a gas station's restrooms, we see him as filmed by Hana's cheap hand-held camera. She also films a couple of newlyweds walking to their car while a cameraman films them (the fifth camera in the film). She sees a poor boy pick up the money that drops out of the pocket of the groom. She calls the boy (another criminal), who is picking up garbage and tells her he's an orphan, and begs him to return the money so that she can use the footage for her school project. She keeps filming as the boy approaches the car of the newlyweds (which is being filmed by the professional filmmaker) but the boy doesn't return the money and a very angry Hana shuts off her camera. Panahi gets upset when he thinks he hears the voice of his interrogator. When Panahi picks up another passenger, a friend who is carrying a bunch roses, first we see her filmed by Hana's camera. The woman tells Panahi that she is going to visit a girl who was arrested by the religious police and is now on hunger strike. The woman is actually a lawyer who has been sentenced a three-year suspension for helping dissidents like Panahi. She makes fun of the stupidity of the religious police, but smiling. Hana finds a purse in the back seat, and he guesses that it belongs to one of the goldfish women. Panahi drives to the place where they were going and looks for them. The dashboard camera films as Panahi and Hana walk away and we don't hear any sound because he locked the car. Two men on a motorcycle stop in front of the car. One gets out while the other mounts guard. We hear the noise of broken glass. The screen goes black. The film that Panahi has just made illegally during this day has been stolen, erased.

Three Faces (2018)

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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(Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
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