Navigating his way around the streets of Tehran, he picks up passengers along the way – ranging from shady pirate DVD dealers, to teachers, to superstitious, elderly ladies (complete with a fishbowl), and his own niece. Through this eclectic range of passengers the viewer is offered a candid slice of Iranian life and culture. This is not a documentary, though the viewer is left in a position where we’re never quite sure what is real. At one stage a man who has been involved in a bike accident gets into the car – is this genuine? The nervous laughter around the auditorium would suggest we have no idea whatsoever.
Panahi – who is banned from making movies, and therefore isn’t cited as being the director in this instance, has always had an inclination for melodrama, and this is no different. It may be presented as a faux-documentary of sorts, revelling in the notion of sordid realism and the nuances of everyday life, but essentially this is a drama and these passengers are characters that make up this cast; a soap opera confined to the back of a taxi. It’s of great commendation to this inspiring filmmaker that we care so much for the characters and their respective predicaments. We abide by their tales and fall for their stories, despite the fact we’re continuously questioning whether it’s all made up.
Also in line with Panahi’s style, there is an underlying tension to this piece. Even when matters appear rosy, there’s always a sense that anything can go wrong, at any given opportunity. Such as when his niece leaves the vehicle to cross the road, our heart stops as we anticipate she may be hit by a car. It doesn’t happen of course, but such is the energy and unpredictability of this feature, it feels like a distinct possibility.
Taxi is somewhat self-indulgent, many of the passengers sing Panahi’s praises and pay homage to his previous work throughout – but the director has a cause to present this film in such a way. His films need to be about him, they literally can’t be a traditional work of fiction. His journey as an auteur is unique and intriguing, and in many cases, even more so than any story he could imagine up. The conversation in the taxi often deviates into the state of cinema in Iran too, helped along by his niece’s school project – which comes with a lengthy list of rules in how to get a film distributed. It’s unsubtle, certainly, but provides this film with its paramount message.