Taxi Tehran (2015) is Jafar Panahi’s third movie which he has somehow managed to get made and smuggled out of Iran despite being banned in 2010 by the Iranian authorities from film-making for twenty years for what it viewed as his propaganda activities against the Islamic Republic.
Taxi Tehran features Panahi donning a beret and driving around Iran’s capital picking up various passengers along the way. Panahi has fitted some dash-cams to the front of the taxi which record these encounters. These (almost certainly scripted) conversations allow Panahi to make a number of observations about life in modern Iran under the restrictions imposed by the government.
The first two passengers Panahi picks up are soon engaged in an acrimonious argument about the effectiveness of capital punishment when it comes to thievery. The first passenger (who ironically later claims to be a mugger by profession) calls for the stringent application of Shari’ah and its accompanying hadd penalties. The second passenger, a teacher, counters this by pointing out that Iran is second only to China in the number of people it executes each year and yet this seems to have little impact on criminality.
A third passenger – Iranian cabs apparently host multiple passengers to help lower the cab fare – is listening to the above conversation and when they leave gives a knowing smile and says “You are Jafar Panahi. Those two were actors, weren’t they?” This third passenger turns out to be an underground seller of illegal DVDs. Indeed, he says he used to supply Panahi with copies of movies that are not allowed to be shown in Iran including Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.
The most interesting passenger turns out to be Panahi’s pre-adolescent niece, Hana. He is an hour late in picking her up and Hana makes sure he knows how she feels about it. She informs Panahi that her teacher has given the class an assignment to make a movie in one month. The rules are those that are laid down by the Government’s Ministry and include avoiding “sordid realism”, avoiding discussion of political or economic problems, and ensuring that any heroes do not wear ties (they are only for villains).
Hana is bright and feisty and is a delight to watch and listen to. One can’t help wondering if she is meant by Panahi to be viewed as a proxy for the demographically young Iranian nation and its future potential if only it was freed of the restrictions imposed by an authoritarian regime.
Taxi Tehran is currently available to be viewed on the BBC iPlayer for the next 23 days.