Winner of best Screenplay at Cannes in 2018, Jafar Panahi’s latest film 3 Faces is a brilliant study in female repression, patriotism and artistic freedom in post-Islamic revolution Iran. Panahi (This Is Not A Film, Taxi Tehran) has had a chequered past with Iranian authorities over the last decade. Arrested twice during the anti-establishment protests of 2009, the director was condemned to a twenty year ban from making films or travelling outside the country. This however hasn’t stopped him from repeatedly going against this judgement and remaining defiant despite risking jail with the release of each production.
Popular TV actress Behnaz Jafar (played by Jafari herself) is distraught when she comes across a young girl’s video plea for help after being prevented by her family from taking up her drama studies in Tehran. Behnaz soon abandons the shoot she is on and jumps in a car with director friend Jafar Panahi (playing himself) to check on the teenager (Marziyeh Rezaei). The two make the journey to a small Azeri-speaking village in the Northwest of Iran which is only accessible through a treacherously long and winding road. Here they discover that old traditions die hard.
Like in most of his recent films, Panahi uses allegory and heavy symbolisms to convey way more than what is taking place on-screen. There is a lot to unpack here if one is inclined to fully deconstruct Panahi’s complex narrative. Panahi works with themes relating to social media, tradition and even the prospect of a new dawn which might see Iran liberated from obscurantist forces without forgoing its rich and varied traditions which predates most modern religions.
Panahi’s unique selling point is his ability to let the camera flow freely into beautiful social realist movements, but unlike the social realism of say the Dardenne brothers, the director uses a great deal of magic realism and mysticism in his craft, making him the best at what he does in his field.
A wonderfully well-observed love letter to Iran’s traditions and a message of hope for the future which has been beautifully packaged into a concise and engaging feature. Truly outstanding work from Panahi once again.
3 Faces is in cinemas from the 29th of March.