Directed and written by Jafar Panahi
Iran, 2015.

Posing as a simple taxi driver, Iranian director Jafar Panahi (who under the orders of his country is not allowed to work) rides through the streets of Tehran collecting different kinds of passengers and filming them with a camera fixed on his dashboard. With this, he is able to capture fragments of his passenger’s lives and thoughts that— like a mosaic— help build a picture of Iranian society today with all its contradicting and extraordinary stories of humanity.

Challenging the authorities that have formally ordered him not to make movies anymore, Panahi chooses to follow the path of cinéma vérite to continue to tell the story of his country through a mixture of spontaneity and narrative, which gradually begin to fall under the veil of a documentary style film. On the streets of the capital, he picks up passengers of all sorts and allows that their stories— which are shared through the timespan of a few kilometers— bloom in front of the micro camera placed on the dashboard.

Some passengers support exemplary punishment of criminals while others defend the value of education; there are old ladies who carry around goldfish; there are victims of car accidents (here the viewer encounters one of the situations that makes one suspect a far more decisive intervention to “create” a story)—all these are unaware of their driver’s true identity. Of course, there are also those who are aware (like the irresistible seller of pirated DVDs who shamelessly concludes that he is somewhat of a colleague of Panahi) and therefore interacts with him.

And then there’s the more personal aspect of the film, like when the director’s young niece gets on the taxi while engaged in a school project to shoot a short film … This last situation seems scripted to describe, on the one hand, the modernity of the Iranian school system that put a camera in the hands of an adolescent, but which, on the other hand, implements extreme control over the films that are created (the themes that are politically “treatable” by the teenagers are very limited).  

One never grows tired of the continuous succession of faces, stories, and even the limitations caused by the medium of the micro camera (which is placed at various angles) are not a problem but an inspiration. These factors highlight Panahi’s skilful storytelling that is able to engage and entertain the audience by passing from one “genre” to the next without breaking the involvement of the audience. Panahi’s storytelling still manages to keep a critical, yet passionate, eye on his homeland, revealing its infinite vitality, as well as its sharp contrasts and limits imposed by the government.

Taxi is a fine example of political cinema that plays with language to overcome difficulties and monitoring in order to create an unconventional story that is just as powerful nonetheless.

This film is suitable for all audiences.

Luisa Cotta Ramosino is an Italian television writer and creative producer; she is also a regular contributor to the website Sentieri del cinema and Scegliere un film, an annual collection of film reviews.