Panah Panahi has crafted a clever film in the Iranian film “Road Trip”. It is a wonderful film and does not hand feed you. It is delightfully vague and I believe perhaps intentionally so or has Iranian autocracy hardwired Panahi as a matter of survival to be discrete? If you know the repression of Iranian theocracy it is unwise to criticize anything that can be perceived as a political attack. Just ask the political prisoners that have disappeared, been murdered or have been tortured or all three. If you are familiar with Soviet literature during the Stalinist era and possibly in the era of his successor Putin you may know by way of innocent allegory a regime could be lampooned and criticized with a smile. To do so requires skill and as akin to a cat on a hot tin roof not getting paws scorched. Panahi is the cat on a hot tin roof with this film.
To gain an idea of repression in Iran you can see my review of the documentary “Nasrin” https://setthebarlifestyle.wordpress.com/2020/12/01/nasrin-dirty-rotten-you-know-whats/?fbclid=IwAR1vorUlI_jUqqRI4r-xySbPHa2judXpbQQHxX4FV-2EFjUJnWFtqcvU5N8
Initially I thought this might be a comedy. Father Khorso (Hassan Madjooni), mother (Pantea Panahiha) little brother (Rayan Sarlak) and big brother Farid (Amin Simiar) with their ailing dog Jessy are off on a road trip in Iran. After watching little brother motor mouth in a most precocious fashion to start the film I thought this might be an Iranian Griswoldian trip to Wally World.
Matters start to get off the comedic track when mother in a fearful voice exclaims that they are being followed on the highway. Why the paranoia? Is it simply because this is Iran or is there more than meets the eyes? More comments are made by mom and dad about a summons not yet being served on Farid and having to sell a house and car for bond? Then mention is made that once out of Iran photographer Farid will be successful and we’ll all be reunited? Then father is on the phone with Houshang who appears to be waiting for them. Father says Houshang is a stand-up guy and is to be trusted.
The family heads up from the desert into lush green hills and stops to buy a sheepskin for camouflage. Up they head to a remote meeting point where father says to Farid he should not forget that Houshang is waiting for him “on the other side”. Bingo! Big brother Farid is being smuggled out of Iran into Turkey. Why we don’t find out. But at the hand off point there are other families waiting to hear if their loved one has been successfully smuggled out. Does Farid make it?
This film is no comedy but rather a study in quiet desperation of which little brother has no real clue. Any joy on the trip is fabricated to mask misery. We do not know why Farid is escaping. That is purposely kept vague lest any reason critical to the Iranian regime be apparent. Even any direct reference to human smuggling is never made but rather implied. There is some reason why Farid is escaping. Has he committed a crime? Is he evading military service? Has he criticized the regime? Panahi as writer and director is a cat on a hot tin roof. It is up to the viewer to draw their own conclusions. As in Stalinist and Putinist times censors can’t catch all especially when there is no clear-cut jab criticizing an oppressive regime. Farid could simply be a criminal or trying to escape military service. Right?
Madjooni as father and Panahiha as mother give convincing performances and little brother (Rayan Sarlak) plays both the precocious and obnoxious card beautifully and unforgettably. Beautiful cinematography by Amin Jafari is pulling you to visit Iran.
You can see the trailer here https://vimeo.com/690585703
Currently playing in Canada and when and where see https://www.filmswelike.com/
RKS Film Rating 91/100. The film started its run in Canada on April 22 and will play at several theatres there. You can check out where at https://www.filmswelike.com/