Taxi Tehran (Taxi)
Jafar Panahi (Iran, 2015) Jafar Panahi
Tyneside Cinema Newcastle, All Saints Day 2015; ticket: £7.75
perception that is not me…
What is a film? It’s a perception, says Jafar Panahi talking to his niece about making films. But not just any perception: it is your perception, your awareness of what you are looking at, the mediation of the world through your mind.
And in his taxi, picking up and putting down people thoughts ideas attitudes, Panahi places himself in the middle of a world in constant movement around him. Like a Mediaeval theologist placing man at the centre of the cosmos, Panahi in his cab locates himself in the midst of Tehran, and the series of encounters such a position inevitably entails.
Jafar Panahi doesn’t drive like any big city cabbie I ever caught. The placement and light sometimes uncertain touch of his hand with the steering wheel betokens the driver/philosopher not a battle hardened hack . He manoeuvres his car gently sometimes haltingly through the mayhem of the Tehran streets, confesses uncertainty about destination, and has the look of a gentle soul searching for something that is not on the meter: by and large he doesn’t charge for the ride.
So what is quality of the ‘perception’ Panahi intends to capture with his camera, that is mostly but not always mounted on the dashboard of his ‘taxi’? Obviously in one critical sense it must be himself. But not a static subjectivity rather himself in the world in which he’s moving. Although the camera often points at Panahi, the perception guiding the shots is not narcissistic. he is not one of these Big Shot TV presenters; his ‘film’ is never about ‘me Panahi’. The camera points at him but it is as if the ‘He that is Panahi’ dissolves into the context of the situation: the taxi. ‘Taxi’ is never ‘grounded’ or signified in Panahi’s subjectivity, because the role of the taxi driver is simply to serve others, to carry them, body mind spirit, a little way along. To hear where they are going. That’s all. The driver isn’t going to change their destination. Pick them up put them down.
Panahi taxi driver stands for Panahi director. At this point Panahi has changed stance from earlier films which sold a point of view. When the taxi man sets out in the morning there is no direction to take. He sets out into the streets to find people. Panahi as director is an intermediary, a medium for the chaos of Tehran. He picks up the collectivist of the city thoughts, fears, beliefs and hopes. Panahi doesn’t judge disagree or dispute, responds only when cued. He moves across the city.
Panahi drives without fear. he knows that in his situation he can be arrested, canned flung in prison anytime. Without fear perhaps because he knows the joke is on him. He drives his cab making a ‘film’ that is not a screenable ‘film’; knowing that until 2030 he is under legal ban from screenable film making. By the end of the film, we understand that Panahi has been setting ‘Taxi’ up as an exercise of gallows humour, the ultimate form of humour that pays homage to death with an assertion of life. Panahi’s film is suffused with humour; observational humour, like Chaplin’s, grounded in the small details of the everyday. An angle that sees life in Tehran the way the people of Tehran see life: as a movie. Everyone caught up in the same farce, the contradictions between the orthodoxy of the sacred precepts of fundamentalist religion and the boisterous profane celebrations of secular life.
Life rages in the cab. The appeal of the uncompromising humourless nature of Sharia. In the cab we understand that how the religious abyss has opened up and swallowed those including women, for their transgressions of the code. In the cab we understand that there are important rules you have to obey to make a screenable film; Panahi’s niece recites them for his benefit. And the camera in the taxi complies with none of these rules. We see men wearing neck ties, scavengers, pornography peddled, dissident lawyers questioning the operation of the law, and more, superstition and parody. As the camera records all of this, its material cannot by definition be a screenible film. So Panahi has not violated the terms of his sentence. ‘Taxi’ is joke in itself; it is not a film. The conclusive proof that it is not a film is that it has: no credits. There is nobody at whom to point the finger of accusation. No name only the image of a self effacing cabbie, who is there to help people to move around the city.
We know from the final scene that Panahi can be obliterated at any time by the state and its projected force. He can be beaten up, his camera smashed, arrested detained put in gaol. But he isn’t afraid because he can look them in the eye and say: I haven’t made a screenible film; this is not a movie: Gallows humour, just a joke! Just a taxi. Adrin Neatrour firstname.lastname@example.org