By Adam Cook
Jafar Panahi’s third “film” since being banned from making movies in his native Iran is a complete contrast to both the melancholy yet empowering This Is Not a Film (2011) and the powerful yet navel-gazing Closed Curtain (2013). Jafar Panahi’s Taxi (as it now seems to be called for North American release) again deals with themes of authorship transcending censorship and expression transcending oppression, but this time the tone is lighter and more playful; playing himself going incognito as a Tehran cab driver, Panahi has gotten his groove back. The very setup of Jafar Panahi’s Taxi is pure film-form fun: 95% of the film is comprised of footage shot from a small camera attached to the vehicle’s dashboard (which can swivel for purposes of reframing). This limitation is at once an obstruction and a means to creative choices—a metaphor for Panahi’s current situation. Posing as documentary and never announcing itself as fiction, Jafar Panahi’s Taxi is nevertheless clearly staged (at least to a degree), but the ambiguity created by its nonchalant naturalism is downright mischievous and often humorous (especially in one sequence when Panahi picks up an injured passenger). Despite the lightness of tone throughout, as the ride nears its end the film nevertheless poses serious questions about living and making art under an oppressive regime.