3 Faces Jafar Panahi (2018; Iran) Behnaz Jafari
viewed Tyneside Cinema 2nd April 2019; ticket £10.75
Just like a trip to Brexit – land
Panahi’s ‘3 Faces’ despite being scripted and filmed with an automobile as the key setting, is not a road movie in the Hollywood sense of the term. It is not about arriving or departing, or travel across the impersonal vastness of a continent, but rather a film about a certain type of intimacy.
There is something about the nature of the automobile that captivates Iranian film makers. Both Panahi and Kairostami use cars in a way that is not so much instrumental but rather existential. Their films are about automobiles as ‘states of being’. Thinking about the way in which cars are filmed in their films, external shots of the featured vehicles are rare, and external wide shots rarer still. Most of the shots in Panahi and Kairostami’s ‘car’ films are internal, the filming takes place inside the vehicles.
This contrasts with Hollywood’s ideas about use of the the automobile where external shots in particular wide shots of featured automobiles are a core part of Hollywood cinematic language. I recently saw Zahlers ‘Dragged Across Concrete’ which is a typical formulaic noir tec drama in which the cars function as protective steel carapaces barely able to contain the psychopathic forces compressed within them; vehicles replicating the repressed armoured psyches of the American male. If not acting as containing outer shells, Hollywood’s automobiles function as pure image, outer signs that extend identity into the realm of objects. Identity as understood by Hollywood is defined through externalities not internalities: what you wear, how you look, how you live. what you drive. So the automobile is exploited for its associative connection both with the characters and their place in the world. The vehicles in Hollywood films lend an consumerist aura to the scenario, highlighting the notion of the automobile as an accessory that serves to offset the action and frame the lifestyle of the protagonists. In as much as automobiles are part of the script, they are either carapaces, weapons, toys, life style accessories or suburban props.
The role played by automobiles when Panahi and Kairostami film them is very different. They are often located at the heart of the scenario. But the car is no longer shot as a hard exterior masculine shell. In their manner of shooting there is a feminine sensibility, a womb like nurturing quality that brings a humanistic dimension comes into play. Vehicles become mediators of both internal and external actuality. The automobiles are subsumed not just into narrative but into the main characters becoming an extension of their being in the world. The automobiles have a strong relational dimension. The enclosed space is exploited for the possibility of psychic intercourse, an intimate setting that facilitates and nurtures the development and expression of interactions between people. The automobile becomes a device that enables not so much movement but rather exploration. Travelling is not about moving across the spacial externalities of a vast country, but rather about locating interiorities. In the scripts of both Panahi and Kairostami the travel is not about moving through space and time but rather through openings mediated by consciousness.
In ‘3 Faces’ Panahi who is himself the driver of the car. A scripting device sets both him and a female soap opera actress off through the night into the darkness of Iran, on a quest to find a woman. It is ironic (perhaps) that as women and their social position in Iran (Offside, the Circle), have been the subject of much of his work and caused him to be imprisoned and banned from making films, that the films he has made whilst under ban, stand out as the most feminine in form of any male director (and most female directors who for the most part want to be male directors) of whom I am aware. As if Panahi were using the statement of filmic form rather than content to continue his opposition to the regime. How extraordinary.
As Panahi penetrates in his car into the depths of the country it becomes clear that this is a journey in which he is seeking out to explore the forces that have wanted to crush him. His reaching out to the conservative country people is with compassion and without enmity. He sees what they are and knows that in their situation they cannot change: they are unchanging. There is no malice in the way in which these people see the world but their judgement is strict and guided by the only authorities they recognise: their tradition and their religion. And Panahi sees without judgement, because what point is there to judge. He sees a society in which in the public social arena all forces revolve around the man. Panahi pokes fun at this in the script with the sequence revolving about a foreskin, but it is gentle fun, half in earnest.
The unfolding of the quest revolves about women, and Panahi’s film captures the 3 faces of women as seen from high up in the Iranian countryside: the scarlet, the mythic and the actual. And as Panahi’s script notes, the actual is developing a line of escape.