Three Faces

Three Faces

Image by Three Faces

Daniel Nelson

In 2010 Jafar Panahi was given a six-year prison sentence and a 20-year ban on film directing or screenplay writing (as well as giving interviews or leaving the country). But he could make a film in a taxi turning circle, and now he's made another.

Three Faces is enigmatic, quirky and delightful. It's a sort of Iranian road trip, with Panahi as driver and actor Behnaz Jafari in the passenger seat. She's upset because she's received a phone video of a young woman who appeals on screen for her help and then hangs herself.

Or does she? After all, this is a Jafar Panahi film. Director and actor talk about whether the video is real. Could it even be a set-up by the award-winning director? As she points out, he has previous.

Their journey to the dead-or-alive woman takes them far from sophisticated Tehran, to remote villages where the customs are odd and conversations are odder. If it was a Hollywood film, this would be Hillbilly territory, with a threat of violence in the air. Here, too, the mystery thickens amidst false trails and snippets of information, tension builds and eventually emotion erupts and boils over into a heated argument.

Panahi cleverly keeps the storyline strong without feeling rushed – he has a masterly way of showing time passing without boring the viewer – so there's always time for weird and unexpected exchanges. There's always also time for potshots at mysogyny.

He stays deadpan, a foil to whoever else is in view, though he usually seems to be on the verge of a smile. It has been pointed out that the film's concerns hark back two decades, but it's also true that the Iranian authorities tried to push him back 20 years. Heaven knows what they think of him and his irrepressible film-making, but thankfully he continues to charm and needle.



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