Cinema as Body & Mind

To me there are two films that have really stood out to me and resonated with me on a much more personal level. The first Persepolis (Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi, 2007) and second Taxi Tehran (Jafar Panahi, 2015). My mother, Faranak Chilvers, is from Iran and my family and I have always wanted to go there one day but it’s never been the right time. She left Iran when at the age of 15, to come to London, to escape the Persian Revolution in 1978 as she is a Baha’i. Not only did she have to teach herself English, but she lived alone until her older sister came to join her several years later. She told me because she didn’t know how to cook very well, she lived on Cornflakes and jam for several months. I imagine its because it was such a difficult time in her life, that my mum doesnt talk about it much. This led me to Persepolis. It’s the story of Marjane and her revolutionary family during the Persian Revolution. As Marjane is still very young at the beginning of the film, we see these events through the eyes of a child. It develops to the stuggle of her rebelious teen years and her need to have freedom. It gives me a sort of insight to what it might have been like. In fact, when watching this Marjane, the main character, very much reminds me of my mother, but a more punky and louder version.

With out any knowledge about Jafar Panahi’s work, his film Taxi Tehran gave me an insight to what the film industry is like in Tehran. As Panahi takes on the role of a taxi driver with in this film, we see him interact with several different characters of different ages and conflicting opinions. Though it was not artistically compelling in the way it was filmed but its content (considering the restrictions with in a taxi) was pure brilliance as it gave the viewer has access to public and private interaction with in the confines of a taxi.

For me, though my dad tells me otherwise, I really found it hard to tell what was staged and what was not. In what seemed to be the battle of opinions was explored with a man and woman of similar age. The woman (who had entered the taxi first) disagreed with a man who entered the same cab (with no invitation) who believed that those who steal car tyres should be hanged. To this remark the woman strongly objects but he quickly responds “Law and Sharia has spoken… so chill out lady” in hopes to silence her as she leaves.

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We are then introduced to a pirate dvd seller, who provides people of Tehran with the likes of Woody Allen and The Walking Dead. Immediately recognised it is only then I realise (an unknowing viewer) that the driver is Panahi himself. Clearly this man has a love of film, as he encourages Panahi to go to his friends house, where he can get him all the latest western movies that he would like.

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Film in Tehran is also explored through Hana, Panahi’s niece played by herself, who he picks up after school. We see her avidly discuss her new school project, her teacher has asked her to make a film that is ‘distributable’. However, in Iran, this means the film has to follow several rules. One of which was to avoid ‘sordid realism’. The innocence and sweet humour of the very young Hana, provided toward the end of the film, created a huge contrast to Panahi’s friends who are struggling with more mature issues of Tehran. A woman who is visiting a hunger striker in prison is given a ride in the taxi. Clearly a real friend of Panahi (and a real character), a human rights lawyer reminds him of their days of being on hunger strike. Before leaving the taxi, she offers a rose to the camera placed in front of her, which she spotted immediately after entering the vehicle. This offering and genuine moment in which, as a viewer, I felt a sense of hope. A peaceful and gentle offering, to those, the viewers who can also make a difference for those around them.

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What was really surprising and very shocking was that there were no end credits to the film. No names were given to credit the collaborators for their own safety. Instead, Panahi provides a caption explaining he can’t name anyone due to Iran’s ministry of culture and Islamic guidance only approves the credits of distributable films.

Stunned, and left on a rather dismal note, I wanted to research more into Panahi’s work. After doing so, I plan on watching the rest of his films. I feel that a lot of films of today in the Western world gets so much press because the cost or the green screens or the cast (do not mistake me they are still impressive). However the real bravery of Jafar Panahi’s work comes in the form of the director himself and those who are willing to take part in them. After making several films, realist dramas about life in Iran – among them ‘The Circle’‘Crimson Gold’ and the football movie ‘Offside’. Panahi was threatened with imprisonment, prevented from traveling and banned form making films for 20 years. ‘Tehran Taxi’ is one of his films, made under the radar, in an act of protest in exile (which is why the whole film takes place in a taxi). One film in particular that is incredibly impressive was ‘This is Not a Film’ (2011). Directed with Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Panahi shows himself under house arrest in his flat in Tehran. Re-creating the film he wanted to make with in the confines of his room. When completed, the film was smuggled out of Iran on a USB stick, hidden with in a cake to Cannes. Knowing this, the film had an even bigger effect on me. Panahi’s bravery to exploit the issues in Tehran, not just with in the film industry but political issues that affect everyday life, was brilliantly sad. Not only do I feel so privileged to be living in London, but I will definitely be watching more of his work, and hope he will continue for many years to come. I would also love to see Hana fulfil her dreams of becoming a director. I would recommend this film to anyone, its truly brilliant.

 

 

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