Panah Panahi is the son of acclaimed director Jafar Panahi, who was arrested and banned from making films, as well as being placed under house arrest. It would seem that Panah Panahi is not afraid to follow in his father’s footsteps for this is a brave tale.
This film is so simple and so complex, so full of humour and immense pain, abounding with love and just a little conflict. It is a road movie, a family film, a political tale and a metaphysical journey. Beautifully crafted and with four fine performances, it is hard to overstate the love I feel for his exceptional debut filmHit the Road.
As the title suggests, the story is indeed about a road trip. The country is Iran, the starting point is unknown and the destination nameless. The car holds a family of four: mum (Pantea Panahiha), dad (Hassan Madjooni) and their two sons. As the opening piano music plays, the camera moves downwards towards a beautiful young boy (Rayan Sarlak) playing the keys of a piano drawn onto his father’s plaster cast. The 6-year-old and the dad sit in the back, the latter with his leg stretched out between the front seats. Mum is in the passenger seat and the much older brother (Amin Simiar) is the designated driver.
At first, virtually all our attention is taken up with the child: he’s gorgeous and charming, incredibly funny and inventive, with high-octane energy levels that exhaust those around him. There is much back and forth about a mobile phone he has hidden in his underwear and the parents’ reaction to it, taking it apart and hiding it. No explanation is given for this, but as the journey progresses the reasons for dismantling the boy’s cherished phone become clear.
As the kilometres go by, small hints regarding the true reason for the trip are given: the older son is leaving. His brother’s been told he’s going away to get married but the conversations make clear that this is pure fabrication. The mother and son struggle with their secrets and lies, each of them suffering, while the father seems more oblivious to the problems at hand. It’s fitting that he is in the back with the child for they are compatible playmates.
The film constantly shifts and plays with different layers: the adults talk about one thing, but communicate another, a chance encounter (due to a minor accident) offers an opportunity to voice deeply felt emotions. Magic happens in one scene, but to be honest magic happens in just about every scene. Cinematographer Amin Jafari has captured landscapes and images that will remain in the memory long after viewing. One heart-wrenching scene, viewed from afar, is a stand-out moment: a tableau vivant that captures the wild beauty of the country and the heartache of separation. Yet even here, when the drama is at a height and the emotions raw, Panahi offers some relief with a touch of humour.
This is a truly outstanding debut feature and Panah Panahi needs not worry about following in his father’s shadow: this film establishes him as an extraordinary talent and let’s face it, he learned his trade from one of the best. Hit the Road is a film that you’ll return to, and it will make you laugh and cry every single time you watch it.