Director – Panah Panahi – 2021 – Iran – Cert. 12a – 93m
Four in a car. An Iranian family drive across Iran towards the Turkish border, for reasons that will only later become clear – out in cinemas on Friday, July 29th
A family of four – dad (Hassan Madjooni), mum (Pantea Panahiha), elder son (Amin Simiar), younger son (Rayan Sarlak) plus family dog Jessy – are driving across Iran towards the Turkish border. Actually, when we first meet them, they’ve stopped at a lay-by. That opening, combined with the title, doesn’t leave you in much doubt that this is going to be a road movie. We take an instant shining to the younger son, an irrepressible six-year-old who plays air piano on the keyboard drawn on the plaster cast around his sleeping father’s leg.
A bit of a rogue, this one: mum and dad have left their mobile phones at home as instructed, but six has brought his with him (he denies it, but the ringtone is a giveaway: it turns out he’s hidden it in his underwear and we should probably be thankful the director didn’t make this film in Odorama). Mum takes the phone away and buries it, but later on in the journey, he’s trying to buy another one.
Six’s constant stream of energy finds a counterweight in his more sombre parents. They are preoccupied with grown up concerns. At one point, they become worried that someone is following them, but it turns out not to be a secret policeman or any such, rather a fellow motorist who’s concerned that their tank has a petrol leak. It doesn’t worry the youngster: to him, it’s all a game of heroes (us) and villains (them)… Presumably he’s yet to experience the really bad stuff first-hand.
All three are sleeping inside the stationary car when the camera, watching from inside the car, swivels to follow a brooding, internally focused man as he walks round the vehicle, later revealed to be six’s elder brother. In fact, he’ll be the driver for the trip and turns out to be the reason behind it, initially given as he plans to cross the border to get married. But that’s not actually the reason for his border crossing at all…
Working with minimal resources, Panahi conjures convincing and compelling family dynamics. The two parents are (understandably) far more concerned and grounded than the little boy, who seems to have picked up much of his spirit from his rather. You can almost feel the true purpose of the trip slowly eating away at them. As for the elder brother, he doesn’t say that much. The journey progresses. They stop to buy sheepskins. There are bikers wearing masks covering their faces save for eye slits…
As the journey moves towards revelation as to what exactly is going on, there’s still time for whimsy, including a delightful sequence in which father and son, the former wearing a metallic shiny, one-piece coat with a hood that makes him resemble an astronaut, lie on a piece of ground which is transformed into a night sky full of stars.
To close the piece, and to move the ending a little more towards the upbeat, young son, mum and dad mime to popular Iranian songs (I don’t use the word ‘pop’ because they have elements of traditional and local folk music styles) as they drive along.
It might sound slight, but the four characters will suck you in, particularly the youngster. Director Panahi is the son of renowned Iranian director Jafar Panahi, an associate of Abbas Kiorostani, who has grown up around filmmaking types and clearly has cinema in his blood. This is a remarkably assured first feature, well worth seeing in its own right, which makes you wonder what the rest of this young director’s career will bring, For now, though, this current gem is well worth an hour and a half of your time.
Hit The Road is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, July 29th .