Jafar Panahi’s Taxi (2015) also known as Taxi Tehran, winner of the Golden Bear at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival, triumphs as a delightfully inventive and brilliant piece of heartfelt humanist cinema by one of Iran’s most outspoken filmmakers. Banned from making films in his own country, Panahi made this bold film after spending six years under house arrest by the Iranian government.

Internationally acclaimed director Jafar Panahi, known for such films as The White Balloon (1995), The Circle (2000), Crimson Gold (2003) and Offside (2006), has made extraordinary  socially relevant films dealing with the plight of women in Iran and is critical of the country’s government policies and male dominated society. 

Taxi’s ingenious storyline takes place entirely inside a cab driven by the director himself through the streets of Tehran using only dash cams inside the car that can be swiveled from a front view of the road to a rear view of the taxi’s passengers. There is no attempt made to conceal the camera from the passengers who are sometimes curiously aware that something is there but not sure what exactly it is.

Even Panahi himself is not concealing his identity as he is recognized by some of his passengers as the venerated national celebrity he has become. As Panahi drives through the streets of Tehran picking up passengers while wearing a newsboy cap, we the audience learn about their lives, dreams and how they feel about society and the world through his interactions with them.

The idea is so simple and original, it’s a joy to watch. Using only a car and a camera, Panahi is able to orchestrate vital and timely stories with vibrancy and humor. We can easily believe and relate to the sometimes bizarre situations that unfold in the cab because it’s done with such honesty and realism. 

The activities surrounding a taxi as it drives through actual locations in a busy city are in themselves engaging to watch. The dashboard camera footage also makes for some fascinating angles and dynamic shots of the city as it passes by in the background. It all feels very candid and spontaneous like a documentary, as if it’s all really happening. 

Using non-professional actors, the performances are especially fresh and convincing in their innocence. Through these candid interactions both playful and profound, we come to realize some universal truths about the human condition and how Iranians of all ages and from all walks of life are fundamentally similar to all who struggle with life in a big city.

Have you ever noticed that people feel more comfortable talking freely about themselves while in a moving vehicle? Well this film certainly proves that theory. At one point Panahi picks up two fares who share the cab for a short time, one a young working class man who gives his opinions about what the government should do with thieves to set a strong example, and the other an older lady who is more liberal minded and argues with him about how we should learn more about what causes crime before condemning people so quickly.

In another lively sequence, our fake taxi driver happens upon a motorcycle accident, and the bleeding victim is rushed into his cab while the bystanders tell the driver to head for the nearest hospital. But not being an actual taxi driver Panahi doesn’t know the way, leading to some hilarious comments throughout the film about his incompetence as a cab driver.

Panahi himself plays his part with a surprisingly modest, good-humored demeanor, never becoming flustered or angry. He’s humble and always has a kind word and thoughtful advice for his passengers. Through his jovial guise, Taxi is able to reveal, like all great art, not only the personality of a city and its culture, but human nature, both good and bad.


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