Intellectually and artistically, Tehran Taxi is intimidatingly dense. The third in a very loose trilogy from Jahar Panahi – following the Iranian director’s twenty-year ban from filmmaking in 2010 – we spend the entirety of the film in Panahi’s taxi, observing his passenger’s conversations about cinema, censorship and justice through a handful of digital cameras (and, briefly, an iPhone).
As you’d expect from an Iranian film set in a taxi, the layers of artifice go very deep. Is this a documentary, an entirely fictional feature? More than likely, the film resides somewhere in between: fake enough that every conversation comes back to movies (with passengers quoting/making direct reference to Panahi’s earlier films); real enough that when a boy finds a decent chunk of money in the street, he’s going to hold onto it.
But narrowing in on this intellectual stuff misses that Tehran Taxi is a whole lot of fun. Sure, this is “sordid realism” – sidestepping the draconian strictures of modern Iranian cinema by shining a light on the country’s injustices – but there’s plenty of sharp humour amongst it, along with a warmth from Panahi’s jovial-uncle-who’s-smarter-than-he-seems routine (aided by his actual – well, supposedly – niece, a budding filmmaker herself). Vibrant, exciting, urgent filmmaking.