All things considered, Jafar Panahi would doubtless prefer not to be confined to his native Iran and banned from making films. But the restrictions placed on him by the government he often criticized in earlier films like “The Circle” and “Crimson Gold” has only made him more resourceful, and strengthened the already formidable critical consensus in his favor. His latest movie, “Taxi” — his third, after “This Is Not a Film” and “Closed Curtain” completed and shown internationally since the ban was enacted —premiered at the Berlin Film Festival to universally positive reviews, and a few thrilled ones.
Although Panahi is not credited as director — the film officially has none — he appears as “Taxi’s” central figure, driving a cab around Tehran in 80 minutes of simulated real time. Whether the once-lauded director has actually been reduced to taking fares for a living is one of many questions the film leaves playfully unanswered. Unless the Iranian government changes its mind, Panahi will be unable to collect awards in person, but if he keeps making movies like “Taxi,” chances are he’ll keep winning them.
Reviews of “Taxi”
Kevin B. Lee, Indiewire
Moment by moment, the viewer is in a constant state of negotiation with what they are to believe as real. This aligns perfectly with Panahi’s position as a cinematic taxi driver navigating his way through the film, both spatially and dramatically. Panahi’s perilous position as a director who’s branded (in both positive and negative senses of the word) comes through in one extended sequence where he escorts his regular supplier of pirated DVDs to another client. The seller uses Panahi’s presence to excite the client to buy more DVDs at Panahi’s personal recommendations, much to the director’s chagrin. The seller then suggests that Panahi could make a decent living as his partner since Panahi can no longer make a living from making movies.
Dan Fainaru, Screen Daily
On paper, it looks like yet another Jafar Panahi exercise, outsmarting once again the Iranian authorities who have forbidden him from making films for the next 20 years. On screen, however, this is a delightful surprise, and though it is even more minimalistic than his last two illegal exports, “This Is Not a Film” and “Closed Curtain,” it is also more mature, and better calibrated and – at the risk of annoying art house patrons who often hate this term – more entertaining than the other two.
Peter Bradshaw, Guardian
“Taxi” is a good-humoured jeu d’esprit, a piece of freewheeling cinephile activism, and a kind of career selfie – Panahi is certainly not burdened with any false modesty. It’s a rueful but insistent statement to the effect that he is down but not out. He is still here, still commenting on Iran’s heavy-handed system of injustice, still shooting movies, on digital cameras, on mobile phones, on anything with a memory stick.
Scott Foundas, Variety
For an exceptionally lithe, inventive 80 minutes (staged in simulated real time), Panahi himself drives a taxi through the busy streets of Tehran, picking up various passengers who serve as conduits for a provocative discussion of Iranian social mores and the art of cinematic storytelling. Although there’s nothing terribly new to what Panahi is saying or how he goes about saying it, the fact that he’s able to say it at all is no small feat: a victory that should ensure “Taxi” makes many more stops around the world before returning to the garage.
Deborah Young, Hollywood Reporter
Like the haunting Persian music occasionally heard in the film that turns the mood melancholy and serious, the fluidly told episodes are variations on an Iranian theme that at first glance seems like an over-used vein with no gold left to mine. Amazingly, Panahi turns the utterly simple, economical format of a camera inside a car into something relevant to his own artistic state and full of eye-opening insights into Iranian society.
#Berlinale Jafar Panahi returns to form with TAXI, a playful, charming, overtly political car movie echoing Kiarostami’s more resonant 10
— Geoff Andrew (@Geoff_Andrew) February 6, 2015
— KINO (@dwkino) February 6, 2015
Taxi by Jafar Panahi was his best film of last decade. Very funny and touching. Loved every second of it.
— Tatyana Shorokhova (@zlobuster) February 6, 2015
Jafar Panahi’s Taxi has a hilarious central conceit that enables playful vignettes containing serious subversion. #Berlinale2015
— Sophie Monks Kaufman (@sopharsogood) February 6, 2015
— CineVue (@CineVue) February 6, 2015
An expert comedy from maestro director Jafar Panahi. Naturalism and eloquence on a drive in virtual real time.
— Hemanth Kissoon (@Filmaluation) February 6, 2015
And Jafar Panahi’s TAXI? Maybe relatively lighter in tone than his last two films, but no less poignant and profound. #Berlinale
— Kenji Fujishima (@kenjfuj) February 6, 2015