Making a film you know nobody in your country will get to see (unless they know Omid). Taxi Tehran: Eduqas A Level Film Studies: Core Area Notes.

I’ll keep the pre-amble short here. If you are studying Taxi (or Taxi Tehran, or Jafar Panahi’s Taxi – to give it all of the other names it goes by globally) here are all the notes you need to be able answer any questions on the core areas for the Eduqas exam.

If you aren’t  – you should watch it anyway. It will make you re-think what film is and what it is for. You might only have a phone to film with, heck you might have to borrow a phone to film with, but you  still have more to play with than one of Iran’s best directors!

I’ve already written something about Iranian cinema styles here. If you want to get context sorted out do two things. Watch Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi . . .

Watch it in the original (French) or in English (where you get to hear Iggy Pop play a political prisoner).

And then watch all three episodes of Shane Smith’s Vice guide to Iranian Cinema.

Remember – watch all three parts. The bit about the film “The Cow” is really important!

The context bit that isn’t covered by the Vice doc is what happened in 2009. I’ll try to sum it up quickly but it’s big stuff. In 2009 there was a Presidential election (remember though that the president is not in overall charge – the Ayotollah Khamenei, and the Guardian Council, sit above political leaders in the Iranian theocracy). Globally, countries with big youth populations began to experience unrest and a desire for change. In Iran this was called “The Green Movement” (like the “Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2005 and the “Rose Revolution” in Georgia in 2003 – the green colour is not environmental but supposed to represent democracy and Persian identity).

Suffice to say that the Iranian government is very sensitive to street protests and potential revolutions (having started off that way themselves) and the authorities cracked down on it hard. Jafar Panahi, the director of Taxi Tehran, was already on their naughty list because he has always been one to push at the restrictions of the regime (if you look at my notes on his film Offside you’ll see what I mean).

In 2009 he was arrested near the grave of Neda Agha Soltan who was shot in the chest by police and whose image, after her death, became a symbol for the protests.

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I include this image because it is important to understand how serious the Iranian authorities can be when they want to. I will write more about the wriggle-room in Iranian life but people are imprisoned, tortured, executed and killed in protests in a way that is unfamiliar to us.

Panahi was released but then he went to Montreal to be the head of the Montreal World Film Festival where he convinced the entire jury to wear green scarves in support of the protesters. After that he was stopped from leaving the country. In 2010 he was arrested and sent to the notorious Evin Prison. Following that he was imprisoned, though later released, and placed under house arrest and banned from making films for 20 years (to give you a flavour of the hardening of attitudes The House of Cinema, that features so prominently in the Vice documentary, was also shut down.

That didn’t stop Panahi. He made a film in 2011 called This is not a Film (in a great bit of comic-drama it was smuggled out in a flash-drive hidden in a cake) and another film called Closed Curtain in 2013. Both of these films were shot inside his (or another) house and were not seen in Iran.

You would have expected the authorities to imprison him again but Iran doesn’t work like that and he actually gained a little more freedom and so his 2015 film, Jafar Panahi’s Taxi (in Persian) shows him able to move around outside.

Eduqas are great at giving you useful resources and there is a pdf sheet here. There is a complete page of resource sheets for all the other Global Film choices as well.

The text book is also really useful but I’ve been teaching Iranian Cinema for a while now and there’s a few things that I can add to help you.

The Core Areas:

Your question can come from any of the following areas:

Area 1. The key elements of film form: cinematography, mise-en-scène, editing,

sound and performance

Area 2. Meaning and response: how film functions as both a medium of

representation and as an aesthetic medium

Area 3. The contexts of film: social, cultural, political, historical and institutional,

including production

I have posted up the syllabus’ complete Core Area notes here.

Important note. I am not Iranian! This means that my knowledge of Iranian context and culture is limited to things that I have read and watched. If you spot some glaring bit of meaning making that would be obvious to someone in Iran please let me know and I can include it (and give you the credit you deserve). I’m especially thinking about links to Iranian books, films. T.V. shows or music which would help to shape audience response.

Area 1. The key elements of film form: cinematography, mise-en-scène, editing, sound and performance.

Cinematography:

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I think that one of the first things I need to make sure that you know is that in form this movie is not a completely original work. Yes Panahi has been banned from making a film (and this leads to really interesting contradictions – is he making a film if he doesn’t touch the camera? Is the car making the film? Is he making a film if he records the last will and testament of a dying man for his wife?) but this is a stylistic remake of another director’s previous work.

Panahi’s mentor was, in many ways, the most important name in Iranian cinema, the great Iranian auteur Abbas Kiarostami. They worked together and Kiarostami nurtured the young Panahi as he made his early films. There are two films you need to know about. The first is:

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In this film the majority of the action is shot within a moving car. Kiarostami later made Ten.

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In this film a driver (the actress, film maker, artist and activist Mania Akbari) has ten conversations in her car with ten people. The director rigged the vehicle with cameras, rehearsed the scenes beforehand but allowed elements of improvisation to emerge in the filming which he would later edit together. The passengers play versions of themselves (I will explore this more later).

Panahi did something similar in the opening scenes, and last third, of his film Offside

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where buses become moving studios. In many ways the use of a vehicle is a key stylistic element of certain forms of Iranian cinema and the technical decisions a director has to make as a result are an important part of the key elements of film form.

This is a film where the conventions of film making are deliberately avoided for two reasons. Firstly because Panahi isn’t allowed to make a film! Secondly because what Panahi, and Kiarostami before him, want to do is remove the artifice of film making so that the film dances around on the borderline between the real and artifice. more on this later.

The camera/s are set up on the dashboard and also on one of the rear doors. A key word here is panopticon. A panopticon is a prison/space where all can be observed and what Panahi has created is a panoptic taxi. The wide lens choices are also deliberately amateur and unflashy. In this way the statement that the cinematography makes links to the title; this is Jafar Panahi’s Tehran, as he sees it. The cinematography, more importantly, is a comment on Panahi’s own situation; he is under surveillance, but so too is everyone else. Everyone is watching each other.

That said if you get a question which asks you about cinematography and lighting, with this film,  you need to find a way to twist your answer so that you look at the other ways that meaning is generated and conveyed. You need to include a statement like . . .

Although Panahi uses cinematography to . . . he is much more concerned with using X to make the audience aware of Y . . .

It’s a bit cheat-y but it will help you get out of a bind if the examiner decides to ask a question about meaning and cinematography. Just bump your answer on to the other ways Panahi is communicating.

Mise-en-scène:

When you have only got a few things to speak with everything you say is important.

Check this out . . .

What’s the difference between this?

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and this?

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Ignore the performance for a moment. Check out the hat.

Without the hat Panahi looks like a film director. Check out the international film-director’s uniform of black jacket and T combo.

In that hat Panahi makes the jump from director-man to taxi-driver-man. He especially looks like a New York taxi driver. The stereotype of a New York cabbie. Hmmmm?!?

Being a taxi driver means something. Taxi drivers exist in what we call liminal space. They act on the boundary of different spaces. Not home, not work, in between. They don’t belong in a specific place other than the cab. There are lots of American films which think about cab driving this way. For example in Collateral Jamie Foxx is a cabbie who ferries Tom Cruise’s hit man from job to job. There is also this odd element that the driver owns the space. If you’ve ever been in a cab where the driver decides to start a conversation you’ll know that they dictate the terms and any Londoner will tell you that cab drivers can also dictate where they will and will not go (“Sorry mate, I don’t go south of the river”). They have a reputation, in most cities, of being quite hard-nosed, independently-minded and self-assured.

In Iran fuel is cheap (oil-producing country doanchaknow) and it seems to be part of the culture of hospitability in Iran that people can easily flag down a car for a lift. It recurs in so many films, it’s not like picking up a hitchhiker, more like helping someone carry some groceries. Panahi didn’t need to make himself a taxi driver to make this film work, but he did, so that means there must be a reason, or several.

Let’s check through the references. First there’s the biggy:

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In Scorsese’s Taxi Driver De Niro plays Travis Bickle, the Vietnam Vet whose job as a cabbie shows him the worst of New York. He becomes more and more obsessive and finally becomes a violent vigilante. The important thing about this reference is that Bickle is the opposite of Panahi. Both have been pushed to the margins but one loses control whereas the other seems to exude beatific calm. Does the cap, early in the film, create the expectation of an abrasiveness that Panahi enjoys dispelling?

The second meaning big reference is this one. And weirdly it fits even better.

Watch all of this.

Look at that cast! Everyone went on to become huge, or was huge. Christopher Lloyd went on to Back to the Future, Jeff Conoway was Kenikie in Grease, Judd Hirsch is Jeff Goldblum’s Dad in Independence day, Andy Kaufman became the world intergender wrestling champion (check out the amazing Jim Carrey film Man on the Moon for the truly mental story of Kaufman’s life) and Danny DeVito . . .

Danny DeVito became the biggest of them all. He went on to star in massive film hits throughout the 80s and 90s. In the show he played Louis, the dispatcher (someone who controls the taxi garage). Who does he remind you of?

There is more than a bit of Omid going on here.

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I will add more when we discuss his character later.

The other big references are:

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Jim Jarmusch is a big indie name and this is one of his most well known films. Five cabbies, five cities, one night. The cabs give us weird insights into the human condition (sound familiar?)

The final ref you need is this. At the end of the film we are told it’s title is “Taxi”.

A great wet Sunday afternoon flick BTW. This film (remade crappily by Hollywood – honestly ignore it) is the reason why the film’s title isn’t Taxi in most territories. Again it is the opposite of what Panahi is doing. Big, brash, noisy and expensive. It’s as if Panahi is playing with these references in the cab as mise-en-scène.

The little things count then. The red roses (especially the one left across the dashboard at the end of the film – “for the people of cinema” – and it’s literally sitting across the screen at the end). Hana’s real camera (as opposed to Panahi’s make-shift one). The orange juice and orange jacket of the faceless man who beat up Mr Arash (Panahi’s friend). In the film tiny costume and prop choices do a lot of heavy lifting. Does it mean something that the professional mugger, who supports sharia law so fervently, wears western dress? Does it mean something that the old women are carrying lucky goldfish (just like the lucky goldfish in Panahi’s first feature film)? Course it does! See what other ones you can spot.

Editing.

Basic, basic, basic. But powerful. Again, like cinematography, you are going to want to shift any question about editing on to other ways meaning is made but there are a few major points to make. The simple editing technique of shot, reverse shot is applied here. If you don’t know what that is check this out.

 

Panahi does what the first few seconds of Tony Szhou’s explanation shows us (from Raising Arizona). It allows us to see the reaction of either one of the passangers, or Panahi, to the conversations that happen in the cab. This is important because the reverse shot often shows Panahi’s non-reaction. In T.V. news you’ll often see an interviewer nodding in a revrse shot which is designed to show the journalist agreeing with, or encouraging the interviewee’s speech (in the trade it is called a “nodder shot”) but Panahi doesn’t do that. He smiles. Is he smiling along with the speaker? Or at the speaker? We can’t know for sure but he seems to like all the occupants of his cab, with all their different statuses and opinions and he treats them all courteously (both in the cab and in his film).

There are few other editing flourishes. The film opens with a lengthy shot. Is it a POV? Cinematography note: Doesn’t it remind you a bit of the title shot for the old T.V. show Taxi? It makes Tehran, the city, a character in the film. We find out what the camera is doing only when the first passenger asks what the camera is and Panahi turns the camera around. This isn’t even in-camera editing. We have to wait until nine minutes into the film for a cut (which shows us the cap wearing Panahi for the first time).

This is also not unusual in Iranian film. In A Separation, by Asgar Farhadi, the audience have to wait about ten minutes before there is a cut.

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Iranian auteur editing style places huge emphasis on what people are saying above anything else. This partially reflects Farsi (Persian) culture which is one of the oldest in the world and is highly poetic. Panahi himself is not Farsi but Azeri and comes from a lower-middle/working-class family. For him, like some other Iranian directors, it is more of a social-realist technique. It is part of representing realistic people, in realistic situations, in a realistic way.

It’s tough to write about an absence of editing but that’s how you have to frame it. No parallel scenes, no cross-cutting, no cutaways, no post-production just occasional reverse shots, cuts to the back passenger seat and in-camera changes by moving a camera around.

Does make it feel more real though.

Sound.

I’ve placed a piece at the end of this which outlines some of the restrictions placed on filmmakers in Iran. Some of these concern the use of music (this is both as a potential way of subverting the Iranian Islamic Revolution by playing foreign music or as a way of stirring emotional responses in an audience). As a result the sound in this film is nearly completely diegetic.  There is Iranian traditional music at the beginning and at the end. but it is not clear if it is non-diegetic or on the radio. There is a hint that it has been edited in as it fades out before the end of the film but we cannot be sure. It’s only function seems to be to locate us in place and bracket the action. There is not much more that you can say about this.

Performance.

If you need to know about one cinema movement which has an influence on Jafar Panahi it’s Italian Neorelism.

Panahi uses neorealist techniques to get performances out of his actors. There’s a lot we don’t know about the making of this film, Panahi can’t do any interviews, but there are some things we do know.

Firstly Hana Saedi is actually Panahi’s niece and the Rose Lady is actually Nasrin Sotoudeh, human rights lawyer and activist. We also know, from an interview Hana did when she visited Norway, that the film was scripted.

I was not sure how to get into the script, but it helped when Uncle guided me. He told me that I could interpret it my own way and customize it the way I wanted.

So this is just like Italian neorealism in performance terms. People play versions of themselves in situations that they understand from their own experience. This is crucial to Panahi’s view of the world. Real people are fascinating to him, fascinating and important. This is something that Kiarostami, Panahi and Farhardi all have in common as directors and links their film making to the 1969 Iranian film The Cow that is said to have saved Iranian cinema (because the Ayatollah Khomeini approved of its message of social justice). It also is very different to much of western cinema which constantly seems to strive to show the audience unfamiliar things either through fantasy or high drama. You find yourself, while watching a film like Taxi Tehran, wondering when was the last time you saw something as mundane, but real, as a conversation in a car following an everyday school pick-up in a western film?

What is also important however is that the characters express themselves principally verbally. These verbal performances are quite varied, from Hana’s earnestness and verbosity to Mr Arash’s short, thoughtful, considered statements. Panahi himself is often content to look at, rather than speak in response, to Hana.

Worth noting too that it is the women in the piece who speak in the most logically ordered ways, the Teacher Lady, Hana and Nasrin Sotoudeh.

BTW neorealist casting does not always guarantee the effect you are after. Even more bizarrely it is not dependent on the quality of the performances. Let me explain. One of the biggest turd-burgers of a film in recent memory is Act of Valour (2012).

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In this U.S. military sanctioned propaganda piece U.S. Navy SEALS play the role of, um U.S. Navy SEALS. Unfortunately they can’t act, and they all look identical so you can’t tell what is going on and the whole thing is such an overblown recruitment advert that when one of then, finally, gets blown up you wish it was all of them.

Which is interesting because you can compare it to the 1943 Humphrey Jennings film Fires Were Started.

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This actually is a propaganda piece, designed to make sure the Americans fought to support Britain as well as in the Pacific, and uses real London volunteer firemen to play, um London volunteer fireman. They can’t act. And the script is a bit rubbishy. But you don’t care because, even though it is a drama played out as a documentary there is something solid and real at the heart of the people in the film. I can’t explain it but you believe these firemen playing firemen in a way that you don’t believe those trained killer soldiers playing trained killer soldiers.

Perhaps its because you like them, and their cause (staying at home and risking their lives to save people they know), whereas the SEALS seem to be flying all over the globe, asking very few questions about what they are doing and just killing people they don’t know –  which is usually what the baddies do.

Area 2. Meaning and response

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This is where I get a little confuzzled about the way the board have divided up these “Core Areas”. You can’t really talk about cinematography, mise-en-scène, sound, performance or editing unless you consider the possible meanings that are being generated and the possible audience responses. Yet the board have split them up. Probably best to smoosh them all together and be done with it.

As a result some aspects of this have already been covered in my earlier notes. So . . .

  • how film creates meaning and generates response through cinematography, mise-en-scène, editing, sound and performance (including staging and direction)

That’s kinda done (or at least you have the starter for your own investigations).

There is much more to get our teeth into in . . .

  • how all aspects of film form including narrative contribute to the representations of cultures and societies (gender, ethnicity and age), including the ideological nature of those representations

For a start we need to remember the alternate titles for this film. Titles anchor signification (to a certain degree). If it is “Jafar Panahi’s Taxi” (literal translation of the original title) is it his because it is his film about a taxi (a deliberate riff on what are called vanity titles; films with posters like “Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho” or “Fellini’s Casanova“) or is it just a prosaic nod to his circumstances – it is, after all, his taxi.

“Taxi Tehran”, on the other hand, aims to show us a city through the medium of a taxi-cab. It’s a more objective title (more dispassionate, less involved) compared to the subjective (involved, partisan, biased) first title.

Narrative:

Is Taxi Tehran a road movie?

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(Thelma and Louise is a great example of a road movie. Look at the top two pictures – the characters have, literally, changed during their experiences in the film, from ordinary to outlaw –  and the narrative depicts the events that shape them in a chronological sequence that leads to a dramatic conclusion).

Not entirely – it doesn’t  follow characters to a destination (unless you count the lucky shrine of Ali’s Well as a destination) but it all takes place on the road. It even has a riff on the very American idea of drive-in culture in the way that the orange juice is delivered to the car. It also isn’t a road movie as the key ingredient of that genre is that the central character/s develop, and change, on the journey. If anything it is the reverse of a road movie; we learn about Panahi on the journey and find out more about who he is, where he has come from and what concerns him.

This take on the road movie has a narrative that allows the audience to infer things about Panahi through the people he transports. Usually he says little and it is what they say that develops audience understanding. e.g.

The Mugger and The Teacher Lady: Panahi is interested in the full range of social situations and issues in city life. He lets the characters interact and lets the audience decide whose argument has more validity.

Omid: The black market is, partially, how Panahi has learned his craft and how Iranians will be able to see his films and interact with the outside world. Panahi is himself, like Omid, a criminal.

The injured man and crying woman: Panahi recognises that dramatic things happen to ordinary people all the time.

The Film Student (and Omid): Panahi is recognised as a great director whose opinion has weight and value.

Hana Saedi: Panahi’s life now revolves around the issue of what is more, or less, “distributable” and the rules constraining film makers.

Mr Arash (the old friend): Panahi comes from a very ordinary background himself, which is why he is interested in the struggles, and dignity, of ordinary, lower class, people.

The Rose Lady/Nasrin Sotoude: Panahi is now someone, through both his art and his political stance, who has taken a particular place in Iranian society and shares an understanding of what the state can do to people it is displeased with.

The “Thieves”/secret police: Panahi is under constant surveillance and is personally restricted.

Now think about who we meet and what function they have in the narrative of the film, and in meaning generation.

Character Key Events Function/meaning
First man/ Professional Mugger

 

First person to enter the space of the film. Argues for harsh penalties for criminals before revealing that he is, himself, a mugger. As a lower class character the first passenger marks the film as one concerned with the lives of ordinary Iranians. His costume hints at pride in his appearance (especially the gold necklace) but also instantly marks him as working-class (and also westernised in dress). He then reveals himself to be a mass of contradictions as he extols the harsh penalties for criminals (unaware that he is being driven by a criminal and is involved in a criminal act – making the film) and is, hypocritically, a criminal himself. He mocks the middle-class teacher’s more liberal attitudes.
Teacher Lady Second passenger to get into the taxi. Shares the ride with the first man. Argues with him about whether the government is right to use public executions (both morally and as a way to control crime).  She is well informed about global execution statistics and makes a logical argument. She sits on the back seat of the cab. Just as in other Panahi films the director portrays women as outspoken and equal. She has no problem in openly criticizing male opinion. She is clearly more educated and from a higher social class than the male passenger. She is however sat at the back of the cab, unlike the First Man who takes up a more equal position with the driver. The conversation appears to be one where the middle-class liberal and the working-class conservative have different views on crime (a pattern which recurs globally as the working classes are more likely to be the victims of crime). She represents progressive views and asks for sympathy for the circumstances which force people into crime. Her role in society is to morally guide the young however her opinions are derided as “fiction” in the argument. Her performance shows that she finds the hypocrisy of the First Man incomprehensible and is not amused. She helps move the first drama of the film along through dialogue and argument (as opposed to action).
Jafar Panahi

 

Drives the cab. Gets in and out a bit. Does a lot of nodding and smiling. Constantly reveals he is crap at being a cabbie. Only looks concerned after the conversation with Mr Arash. I’ve already written a lot about Panahi’s actual appearance in this film and will add phenomenological notes below. In short he is the sounding-board for all the stories in the film and also he is illuminated by the events that surround him. Most important thing he says? “I think all films are worth watching.”

He definitely can’t be the hero as he doesn’t have a beard!

Omid (The black-market DVD seller)

 

An early occupant in the cab he is the first to recognise Panahi. He begins to see Panahi as a partner/co-conspirator. He helps with the dramatic injury incident. Omid is, very much, a product of his situation. He is a man who is comfortable navigating the real streets , and legal loopholes, of Tehran. He is both ugly and charismatic at the same time and is utterly believable. He highlights how Panahi’s status has changed (Panahi doesn’t recognise him although he was a previous customer). Omid’s pocket-vest makes him look like a film crew member and Panahi is hinting that Omid’s role (and those like him) in Iranian cinematic life are vital. The similarities between Omid and a western drug-dealer are interesting to a wider audience (prohibition becoming a point of similarity). Omid’s library of foreign films gives him a global outlook and hints that many Iranians would like to be more involved in the wider world. He is also clearly a connoisseur rather than just an opportunist (although his description of a film as “arty” and the way he describes Panahi as his partner to the student make him still a hustler).
Film Student/Omid’s customer

 

Lives in an affluent neighbourhood. Asks Panahi’s advice on both film making and what to watch. Gives a hint as to Panahi’s previous high status by saying he should have invited him in. Allows Panahi to be a great director and mentor in recommending films and offering advice. Allows Panahi to expand on the film making and inspiration (Panahi reveals that adaptation is not his preferred method, “you must find it yourself” – possibly a comment on the film the audience are watching.
Injured man and crying woman

 

Injured in a moped accident. They have to share a helmet. The man wants his will to be written or filmed. It is recorded on Panahi’s phone. Drama is supplied in a completely believable situation. These are the poorest people in the film and the shared helmet symbolises the compromises the poor must make. The will directly contravenes Panahi’s banning order (however Omid does the filming) and the change in the quality of the film (cinematography note) highlights this. The blood is both believable and too red and this section is the most choreographed in the film making it a social realist drama. This section may be contravening the law the most but its concern for the lives of poor people adheres most strongly to Iranian ideas about the value of film.
Old Women

 

Want to take their lucky goldfish to release them at Ali’s Well. Eventually have to take another cab. One leaves her purse in the car. Panahi aims to find her at the end. Comic relief. They also represent the superstitions, traditionalist elements of Tehrani life (a similar scene played out in Kiarostami’s 10 where the driver gave a lift to an old woman who wanted to go to a sacred well – an homage perhaps). The reaction to the accident (“too much emotion”) reads like a comic criticism of most cinema. The returning of the purse becomes a quest narrative at the end of the film.
Goldfish

 

Swim about a bit until the bowl breaks. Put in a plastic bag. Eventually released.

Need to learn no lines.

Possible reference to Panahi’s first film. The lucky goldfish is a traditional superstition and not urbane and modern. Is the captivity/release element a symbolic representation of Panahi’s own situation? They say never work with children or animals and Panahi does both!
Hana Saedi

 

His niece. Needs picking up from school. Accompanies him throughout the rest of the film. Is attempting to make a film to enter into a competition. Reads the rules governing the production of the film. Aims to avoid “ of Siahnamayi” – sordid realism  (literally – portraying it like black) however she accidentally shoots a boy stealing. She attempts to get him to return the money but he doesn’t, therefore ruining the film. Hana is the heart of the film and her strident certainty is contrasted with her uncle’s quiet appreciation of life’s complexities. The rules she has to follow mirror the unwritten rules governing cinema. Her concern with making a film that is “more distributable” is a commentary on Panahi’s own situation (should he compromise his position to gain an audience at home?) but is also a wider comment on all cinematic products (globally).  Hana’s failure to exclude “siahnamayi” demonstrates the impossibility (in Panahi’s eyes) of being a good film maker and avoiding social realism. The way she echoes Arash’s line about the face of the thief (“normal, like everybody else”) reinforces the simplicity, and truth, of the position. She also allows Panahi to be exulted director, scolded family member and warm, wise uncle all at the same time.

Hana is allowed to handle a camera whereas Panahi, the film director is not, making a comment on his restrictions.

Old Friend – Mr Arash

 

He has requested to see Panahi,. They have not met for seven years. Both are from the same neighbourhood. He asks Panahi to look at images of him after a violent robbery. He did not press charges as he saw the money helped the couple who robbed him. He wants to know if the story can be of use to any film makers. He finally reveals that the man who brought them drinks was his assailant. Mr Arash is the calm and dignified heart of the film. He considers everything deeply in a sage-like way although he is from a poor background. His lack of vengefulness astonishes even Panahi. His case treated as being morally complex (unlike the first man’s opinions) and it certainly sounds like the plot of an Asgar Farhadi film. The section seems to stay with Panahi and he even asks Hana if Mr Arash could be the hero of a film (despite his lack of beard).
CD seller

 

Tries to sell CDs to Panahi. Makes reference to “diaspora” (people who live outside of the home-country). A possible reference to film makers like Marjane Satrapi who made Persepolis and all other Persians/Iranians aboroad.
Thief/orange juice seller

 

We don’t see his face! Reinforces that he looks like “everybody”. Is the orange significant (like the lucky goldfish)?
Street sweeper boy/thief

 

Picks up money that has been dropped by a wedding couple and is accidentally filmed by Hana. Argues with her about returning it. Does not return it. This is all captured on her camera. The most Italian Neorealist of all the participants in the film. His situation echoes characters in “Bicycle Thieves” and Chaplin’s “The Kid”. The exchange causes the audience to ask whether the sweeper or Hana is less moral (she only cares about her film’s distributable-ness). His failure to do what Hana wants him to do emphasises the way that people are not always biddable (like Panahi).
Rose Lady/Nasrin Sotoudeh (Human rights lawyer who is representing Ghonche Ghavini in a real case – the girl was imprisoned for spectating at a volleyball match).

 

Spotted by Hana, “The flower lady”, She is initially filmed by Hana. She talks with Panahi about the after-effects of interrogation and about her current work. She leaves a rose in the car and advises Panahi to remove her words from the film she can see he is making.

(During this sequence framing issues reveal microphone shields on the dashboard which demonstrate the pre-prepared nature of Panahi’s film and also its limitations).

“Isn’t she a lovely lady?” Panahi says of her. Soutoudeh’s appearance allows Hana to contextualise events (she often visits and brings flowers). She also allows Panahi to claim that he thought he heard the voice of his interrogator (“Many of my clients say the same thing, they want to identify people from their voices. Advantage of blindfolds.”). She is one of the few people who Panahi can identify with as a political prisoner and they talk about Ghavini (wo is on hunger-strike and whose situation is similar to the girls in “Offside”). Soutoudeh initially says that she is heading to “Paradise” (which is also the Persian word for garden) but in this case she really does mean heaven (which is guarded by “those gentlemen” – the Ayatollahs?) before revealing that she is off to Vanak prison. She is enormously positive, only becoming more serious when discussing the girl, who has refused water, and her suspension from practicing law, like Panahi. She can see through his pretences in making the film but also can see the way the authorities can turn the whole city into a cell through surveillance and repeated charges. She makes a direct call to the audience, “This is for the people of cinema. Because the people of cinema can be relied on”, which is both direct and cryptic. Like Arash she has a reticent and forgiving attitude to her situation – “just let it go.”
Thieves? (They break into the car at the end – are they secret police?)

 

They are young and arrive by motorcycle. One breaks the window (off-screen) and the screen goes black. He complains that there isn’t a memory card. Looking for the card identifies them as the police. Their costumes and modes-operandi are that of street thieves.  Thieves have become a recurring theme in the film. This final sequence asks who are the real criminals as Panahi is returning a purse while the state attempts to steal from him. That said Panahi has the last laugh as he is directly uploading his footage and is so one step ahead of the authorities.

And now this . . .

Learners study the following in relation to film as an aesthetic medium:

  • the role of mise-en-scène, cinematography including lighting, composition and framing in creating aesthetic effects in specific film sequences
  • the role of music and editing in conjunction with the above in creating aesthetic effects
  • the significance of the aesthetic dimension in film including the potential conflict between spectacle and the drive towards narrative resolution in film
  • the aesthetic qualities of specific films and the concept of film aesthetics
  • film aesthetics, approached critically, including the relationship between film

aesthetics and the auteur as well as film aesthetics and ideology.

Look it’s hard to talk about the aesthetic choices made by Panahi in this film as he doesn’t have many. The aesthetics are determined by the restrictive context he is working in. What sort of films would he make if he had grown up in L.A. or Paris? We don’t know. The restrictions he works under lends the whole film an aesthetic that is rooted in the real and which Panahi mines in his Iranian neo-realist way.

This leads us to a . . .

PHENOMENOLOGICAL QUESTION!

Phenomenology is the philosophy concerned with what things are and the truth of things. In this case, by being restricted, repressed and finally banned from film making, Panahi has been forced to make films which constantly ask the audience if they are actually watching a film (or if a film is being constructed in front of them – or rather is it simply happening while the camera happens to be there).

The fact that this becomes phenomenological begins to make the audience massively attentive to the smallest elements and their significance. Is the Nasrin Sotoudeh section scripted or is it an interview? How many people are playing themselves? Where there any completely unintentional sections? When is a film not a film?

Area 3. The contexts of film

 Films are shaped by the contexts in which they are produced. They can therefore be understood in more depth by placing them within two important contextual frames. The first involves considering the broader contexts of a film at the time when it was produced – its social, cultural and political contexts, either current or historical. The second involves a consideration of a film’s institutional context, including the important contextual factors affecting production such as finance and available technology.

Learners study the following:

Social, cultural, political contexts (either current or historical)

  • social factors surrounding a film’s production such as debates about ethnicity or gender
  • cultural factors surrounding a film’s production such as a significant film or artistic movement
  • political factors surrounding a film’s production such as the imposition of restrictions on

freedom of expression or a major movement for political change.

Institutional, including production, context

  • relevant institutional aspects of a film’s production

  • key features of the production process including financial and technological opportunities and constraints.

I’ve already written lots at the start about context however this film throws up more questions than we can answer. How risky was it to choreograph the scene where the injured man was loaded into the cab? It had to be prearranged, and there numerous people involved. It is similar to this film:

index.jpg

Sebastian Schipper’s one-take film (also on the Eduqas course) required terrifying logistical skill as it is all shot in  – well – one-take. Any problems and you have to go back to the beginning. There is an interesting link between the two films. That said Panahi is playing for bigger stakes than Schipper. If he is caught the ramifications could be lengthy imprisonment or even death.

Notes on the Iranian restrictions on cinema

General:

These are unwritten in a formal way but are acted upon by the Ministry of Culture when they allow films to be distributed (or not).

  • Anything that weakens or attacks the principles of Islam is banned from films.
  • There are restrictions on the clothes worn in films, the music used and the subject matter.
  • Mixing of the sexes is discouraged unless within the family (through marriage).
Imagery

In 1996 a directive was issued to filmmakers that forbade tight feminine clothes, any part of a woman’s body except for the face and the hands to be shown, any physical contact or ‘tender words’ between men and women, any jokes about the police, the army or the family unit, any foreign or joyful music, and any bearded negative characters (which could be seen as an insult against the conservative clergy, who must wear a beard according to their interpretation of Islam).

Promiscuity

Alcohol

Sexual behaviour

Depiction of religious figures.

Dancing

Narrative

Subversion: Causing unrest against the state. Rebellion/revolution.

Perversion: Promoting change in the rules governing family life, sexual behaviour and sexuality.

Anti-Islam: Attacking Islam, attacking the religion/religious figures.

Negativism

Censorship in Iran is largely seen as a measure to maintain the stability of the country. Censorship helps prevent unapproved reformist, counter-revolutionary, or religious proponents, peaceful or otherwise, from organizing themselves and spreading their ideals.

Film censorship’s unwritten rules make negotiating the pre-review process immensely difficult. The censors have been known to take issue with unhappy endings and anything they believe weakens or attacks the principles of Islam.

Theme

Subversion, perversion and anti-Islam.

Films should have a clear or particular purpose

Other

Foreign or joyful music

 Gender segregation is not a new concept in Iran, but it is being promoted strongly by Ahmadinejad’s government and the pressure is increasing daily. After controversies surrounding gender segregation in universities, the government are now pushing to segregate cinema audiences. In order to do this they would need to separate the theatres into three sections, a men’s section, a women’s section and a section for families.

In conclusion.

If you are reading this then you are probably a young film maker. Panahi’s take-away from this film is, make more films! You don’t need better equipment. You don’t even need more time (there are hints that this film was rush-edited and snuck out soon after filming – certainly there’s little polishing). All you need is to look around your locale for ideas and “find it yourself”. There are people round you whose stories are not being told, and they need you to tell them.

 

One thought on “Making a film you know nobody in your country will get to see (unless they know Omid). Taxi Tehran: Eduqas A Level Film Studies: Core Area Notes.

  1. Pingback: Making a film you know nobody in your country will get to see (unless they know Omid). Taxi Tehran: Eduqas A Level Film Studies: Core Area Notes. – Mr G's English, Film and Media.

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