Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Panah Panahi
Stars: Panteas Panahiha, Hassan Madjooni, Amin Simsar, Rayan Sarlak.
An Iranian family of four head out for a road trip. In the car is the mother (Pantea Panahiha), the father Khosro (Hassan Madjooni) whose leg is in a cast, their elder son Farid (Amin Simsar) who is quite reserved and says little, and their youngest son (Rayan Sarlak), a curious, precocious and hyperactive child. The family is accompanied by their dog Jessy, who is sick. They are headed for the Iranian/Turkish border for undisclosed purposes, although it soon becomes clear that the oldest brother is trying to leave the country secretly. He is on bail for an unspecified crime and is understandably nervous and insecure about what the future holds. The family has made some huge sacrifices to protect him, even selling their house to pay for him to be smuggled across the border. The family however try to maintain a sense of normality so as not to unduly upset the young boy. They exchange insults towards one another, but beneath the casual ribbing there is a deep bond of affection too.
Hit The Road is the debut feature for Panah Panahi, the eldest son of acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who has been imprisoned for his political views and banned from making films for a decade. Young Panahi has worked on various films with his father and a couple of other giants of Iranian cinema and has obviously learned his craft well. Panahi uses the structure and tropes of the road movie to good effect as he subtly criticises much that is wrong in contemporary Iranian society with its authoritarian regime. There is a hint of paranoia and suspicion when the family fear that they are being followed. For much of the film the characters are confined to their car, giving the material something of a claustrophobic feel.
Like his father’s films, the oblique and seemingly straightforward narrative leaves much unsaid, which is not surprising given the strict censorship of the Iranian authorities. The narrative is like an iceberg with much hidden beneath the surface. Hit The Road is like a shaggy dog tale, leisurely paced and with a meandering gentle quality to its narrative, but a pall of sadness also hangs over proceedings as it is clear that this is the last time this family will be together.
The small cast deliver naturalistic performances that lend an authentic dynamic to their relationship. However, young Sarlak is a standout with his boundless and irrepressible energy and charming presence. Both Madjooni and Panahiha come from a theatrical background and deliver strong, realistic performances. Madjooni has a gruffness that hides a vulnerability, while Panahiha is empathetic and full of concern.
Hit The Road is an assured debut from Panahi and is full of heart and humour. The film has been beautifully shot by cinematographer Amin Jafari who captures some stunning landscapes, ranging from the harsh open deserts to the lush green hillsides of the country. Jafari also works in long takes. At times the mood becomes slightly ominous as well. The film is also full of pop cultural references and touchstones which reflect the diverse range of influences which has shaped the filmmaker.