Taxi Tehran is the third clandestine film directed and written by acclaimed Iranian director, Jafar Pahani since a twenty-year ban on filmmaking was imposed on him in 2010. After being charged with spreading anti-government propaganda, Pahani was placed under house arrest and brilliantly managed to smuggle This is Not a Film (2011) into the Cannes film festival on a USB stick hidden in a cake. After that self-portrait, where Pahani questions how to continue working after his sentencing, he released Closed Curtain (2013), filmed when he was suffering from depression, which won the Silver Bear for Best Script at the Berlinale. Yet in 2015, Pahani escapes the prison of his home and moves into the inconspicuous world of taxi driving, camouflaged among Iran’s bustling capital city, Tehran. Using small, high definition cameras, in a fly-on-the-wall documentary style, Pahani captures a sense of defiance in the characters who ride in his taxi.
Taxi Tehran explores the injustices of Iranian society through the dialogue between the passengers and Pahani, as he opens the film with a debate surrounding the death penalty. A poised and intelligent woman asserts an existential view that man is not born a criminal, yet the Sharia law does not uncover the root cause of the crime: instead, it is quick to judge and make examples of people through inhumane executions without solving the matter. Indeed, Pahani’s work for human rights through the medium of filmmaking has won him a number of prizes, including the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2012, whose laureates include Nelson Mandela.
In a breach of his interview ban with the media, Pahani stated, “Nothing can prevent me from making films since when being pushed to the ultimate corners I connect with my inner-self and, in such private spaces, despite all limitations, the necessity to create becomes even more of an urge.” Pahani seems to be commenting on how there is always room for art and creativity despite rules and limitations. Pahani’s awe-inspiring, outspoken young niece lists her teacher’s guidelines for filming a ‘screenable’ film, by avoiding ‘sordid realism’ and political subject matter. Thus we cannot help but feel lucky to have sneaked into this censored world.
With no credits to protect the collaborators of the film, Taxi Tehran is a cry against the restrictive Iranian laws on cinema. Pahani’s wry smile resonates long after, leaving the audience feeling collectively proud of the director’s ingenuity. Art and ideas are triumphant despite the backdrop of small-minded oppression. However, Pahani stresses he is not a political director but rather an advocate of human rights; someone who is brave enough to expose injustice. It is the director’s humbleness, his intelligence and his wit that prevail. It was Pahani’s tearful niece who collected the Golden Bear award for Best Film at the Berlinale last year. The law may have prevented him from travelling, but his messages of perseverance have permeated society even through the wall of injustice.
Images courtesy of New Wave films