Iranian director Jafar Panahi has shot to fame after being imprisoned by the Iranian Government followed by 8 years of house arrest. Worst and not least, Panahi has been banned from making films. As Tanya Harding proclaimed after she was banned from ever entering any skiing competition for crimes she allegedly committed (“If you have taken skating away from me, what else is there in life?”), what else is Panahi to do if he does not make films. Thankfully, he has continued to make films, as evident in his latest entry set in repressed Iran which won him the Best Scenario Prize at Cannes this year.
Iranian director Jafar Panahi’s 3 FACES looks at current issues dominating not only Iran but the world today – female inequality, oppression leading to abuse and unwavering tradition.
The film begins with a lengthy and troubling video shot on a cellphone of Marziyeh (Marziyeh Rezaei), describing how her ambition to become an actor has been thwarted by her family, and pleading for support from Iranian actor Behnaz Jafari. The footage ends abruptly, with the defeated Marziyeh appearing to commit suicide. The footage illustrates how effective a simple device like a cell phone can be used to make a film. It also shows that clarity of the image is not mandatory in order to get a point across, Still, this sequence is overdone and overlong.
Shaken by the recording, Jafari (playing a fictionalized version of herself) abandons a film shoot and sets off to Marziyeh’s village in the company of her friend Panahi (playing himself). Upon their arrival, they meet with Marziyeh’s friends and apprehensive family, who remain unmoved in ostracizing their daughter for her choice of profession — a reaction rooted in the village’s traditional mindset, and one that’s forced an old silver-screen legend, Shahrazade, to live on the edge of town. The more Jafari and Panahi discover about Marziyeh, the more they learn about the community around her and the inescapable bond between tradition and destiny.
Th film contains a few clever plot twists that keep the story moving. The film has the feel of an Abbas Kiarostami movie, particularly THE WIND WILL CARRY US, especially the scenes with the winding roads up the hill, with similar such scenes in Panahi’s film. At times, Panahi tries to be too cute, such as the dialogue involving the honking of the car while driving to the village. Still the simplicity of the film shows the mastery in Panahi’s work.
Despite good ideas in small budget filmmaking, most of which transpires onscreen have been seen before, especially in Iranian films who appear to have cornered the niche in this type of filmmaking. Even at 90 minutes, 3 FACES feels long and stretched out. It could have been compressed to 70 minutes resulting in a less boring film. The beginning sequence of Marziyeh committing suicide says it all. That 8 minute sequence could have been trimmed to half the time to better effect.