Film Review: 3 Faces (2018), Dir. Jafar Panahi
The remarkable output of Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi makes a good case for suppression being good for creativity. Banned by his government in 2010 from making films for 20 years for making a film deemed to be negative propaganda against it, this is his fourth production. He is becoming more adept at making something from next to nothing. His first post-ban film, This is Not a Film, had a fairly obvious no-budget, clandestine quality and was smuggled out of the country on a pen drive. Closed Curtain was almost entirely filmed inside of his remote beach house with the other main character being his dog which he was keeping in defiance of a ban against keeping dogs. As he finds new resourcefulness, he is able to open up the scope of his stories and there is less of a sense of the covert.
The premise for this meandering odyssey is a cross between a road movie and a quest for truth. The opening scene, which is a selfie video of a young headscarf-wearing girl hanging herself while addressing her pleas to a well-known Iranian actress, Behnaz Jafari (played by herself). She is blaming the actress for not answering her communications regarding her deep desire to be an actress against the wishes of her strict parents in their Azeri-speaking village near the border of Turkey. It is so amateurish and melodramatic that it should be easy to ignore as a bad prank. Yet, the image of Marziyeh’s desperation nags at the conscience of Behnaz who shows it to her friend Jafar Panahi, the director (playing himself). He insists that they go to the village and try to find out whether it is a ruse or not and he offers to drive her.
The road trip provides a window to glimpse of the ways of ordinary citizens in the rural Iranian countryside, which is, to say the least, pretty backward. The sparseness of the population and lack of modern amenities makes it surprising that wherever they stop they are recognized. That these villagers are avid consumers of television entertainment makes the juxtaposition of the two worldly outsiders being welcomed with something like awe is a little unsettling at first. But it allows them the freedom to inquire and poke around to try to unearth the truth of this young girl. In their quest, they are compelled to adapt to the rhythms and manners of the country folk, which are also revealing. There are many quirky characters and their odd stories which they eagerly tell the visitors as if they are some form of validation.
In tracking down Marziyeh, they meet her mother and her terrifyingly protective older brother, the other villagers who express their thoughts on how disgraceful they feel that she is being. All she wants is to be allowed to go to the acting school where she has been accepted. They all make it clear that that would be considered a betrayal to the village where everyone is expected to contribute. Along the way they discover another mystery buried in this remote place. The third of the 3 faces is Shahrazade, an old woman who lives as a recluse seeing almost no one. Formerly a celebrated actress, poet, and painter, she fell afoul of the male-dominated patriarchy and was publicly disgraced and forced into solitude. The pervasiveness of this domination and repression of women is certainly one of the strongest impressions to emerge from the excursion into the rural countryside.
It would seem that their limited exposure to actual modernity as opposed to televised entertainment has made no changes in behavior or thinking in any but the younger generation, creating a sort of confused schizophrenia. It is acknowledged but not absorbed. The truth of Marziyeh’s suicide having been discovered, their mission has been accomplished. Clearly Marziyeh’s future cannot be helped from the outside given what we and they have seen of the entrenched village mentality which rules with absolute authority. The picture that is painted is not laden with judgement. It is merely depicted as the way things are. The impressions will linger even as Behnaz and Panahi rejoin the relative modernity of their lives. And for Marziyeh, possibly, but not probably, things might change. Completely unknowable. There is a tyranny in small towns.
You can watch a trailer for the film here