“Hit the Road” by Panah Panahi, an irresistible Iranian road movie

“Hit the Road” by Panah Panahi, an irresistible Iranian road movie

RADIO FARDA How did you choose the characters for your film? We know nothing of their life and their past, we discover them through their actions and reactions during the journey.

PANAH PANAHI I didn’t even give them a last name. I tried to remove the slightest clue that would link them to a given social class, or to a particular type of character. Above all, I say nothing about their origins because I wanted each spectator, Iranian or not, to be able to identify with them, as if they were a sketch whose story everyone could invent as they please.

I designed this family by drawing inspiration from the people around me. But what I hadn’t noticed when making this film was that all these characters [le père (joué par Hassan Madjouni), la mère (Pantea Panahiha) et leurs deux fils (Amin Simiar et Rayan Sarlak)] are part of me. As if I had divided my existence into four and that I had put myself in these four characters. Thus, the little brother embodies the joy and enthusiasm for life that I had when I was a child.

Landmarks Panah Panahi, promising talent

Panah Panahi.
Panah Panahi. Photo Olivier Vigerie / Pyramide Films

Born in 1984 in Tehran, he is the son of director Jafar Panahi, one of the leading figures of the “new wave” of Iranian cinema (Offside, Taxi Tehran, Three Faces…). hit the road is his first feature film. Father and son were very marked by the events of 2009, the year when Iranian youth demonstrated en masse to demand a change of regime, before being harshly repressed. For supporting the movement, Jafar Panahi was threatened with prison and banned from filming. Panah Panahi remembers a time when “the impetus for reform came from the heart of society”. He entrusts to Radio Farda that the election of the ultraconservative Ebrahim Raïssi to the presidency, in the summer of 2021, has definitively killed his “hope to live in a society that we could make better”. The change can no longer be collective but individual, each one having to save the part of humanity which is in him, he explains in essence.

His film

hit the road depicts a family embarked on a car journey through Iran to reach the border. If the purpose of the trip remains mysterious at first, the atmosphere in the car is saturated with emotions, between laughter and tears. The film has been called a“irresistible” by Variety. The American magazine, one of the reference readings of the cinema industry, salutes “a superb cast” and judges that Panah Panahi manages to “to pay homage to his illustrious Iranian predecessors” while offering a film “which vibrates with its own energy”.

International mail is a partner in this film.

International mail

If one day you have to leave Iran [à cause de la répression et de la censure]do you think you will be able to continue making films?

I can’t make films outside my country, because I’ve lived in Iran until today, and I know Iranians, the relationships they have with each other, the lives they lead. It is a material that I can use. But I have no idea how people live outside of Iran. I don’t know what relationships people have, I have no idea how you greet the neighbor you meet in front of your home, what you say when you enter a store. That’s why I don’t think I can shoot a credible and believable film outside of Iran.

Do you hope that hit the road be broadcast in Iran? Or was your goal to shoot for foreign audiences?

I wanted above all, with this first feature film, to show my talent and my skills. I don’t know if this film will be allowed to be screened in Iran or not. When I talked about it with my father [le réalisateur dissident Jafar Panahi], he advised me to proceed step by step. First shoot the movie [ce qui implique déjà d’obtenir de premières autorisations]then worry about its spread.

This film says nothing that should embarrass government officials. The only problem may come from the music and songs I use [des titres de variété datant d’avant la révolution islamique de 1979, voir plus loin], none of which has a license from the authorities. Anyway, the new government [celui de l’ultraconservateur Ebrahim Raïssi, au pouvoir depuis août 2021] disappointed the entire community of artists. But I hope a miracle will happen and I can show my film in Iran.

You mentioned your father. How much does his shadow weigh on this film? Because, in the field of art, when you are the child of an artist, you are often compared to him.

My biggest challenge was to step out of my father’s shadow. It was so important to me that I became obsessed with it. And the more I thought about it, the more fear invaded me, to the point of completely paralyzing me. I knew I had the necessary skills and talent, but my fear had become so great that I could not achieve anything. However, with the help of my relatives, I was able to pass this milestone and make my film. It filled me with satisfaction, finally I had been able to overcome what was the biggest problem of my life.

Do you see any similarities between you and your father?

The conditions imposed on filmmakers by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance [l’organisme chargé, entre autres, de la censure cinématographique] are so strict that, sooner or later, you ask yourself this question: to what extent am I ready to renounce my convictions? For example, it is impossible to shoot interior scenes where women would not wear the veil, even in front of their husbands. Some Iranian directors agree to comply with this requirement. But the resulting scenes seem fake, they do not correspond to reality.

Jafar [sic] never give up on your beliefs. It is impossible for him to comply with such compromises, even if it would make his task easier. I too am trying to do the same. Jafar, as Abbas Kiarostami [un autre grand nom du cinéma iranien, 1940-2016], has never included interior scenes in his films. Perhaps the biggest cinematic lesson I took from these two is that you should never lose sight of what you believe in.

On the road to exile, father and son share a rare moment of intimacy.  A scene from the film, with actors Hassan Madjouni (left) and Amin Simiar.
On the road to exile, father and son share a rare moment of intimacy. A scene from the film, with actors Hassan Madjouni (left) and Amin Simiar. Photo Pyramid Movies

In recent years, the number of Iranian films set in cars has increased.

In Iran, as soon as we set foot outside, we are under constant surveillance by the regime. If we commit the slightest deviation, we suffer the consequences. In such a context, the car has become a refuge. It acts as a small traveling house, a place where Iranians maintain relative freedom while being in society. [par exemple, ils peuvent écouter la musique qu’ils veulent, et une femme ne sera pas réprimandée si son voile n’est pas parfaitement ajusté]. It is for this reason that cars have become an essential element of Iranian cinema: they are part of the lives of the characters, and serve as a backdrop for many scenes.

Can you explain the songs you chose for this film?

These songs, which the family listens to and sings during their journey by car, are an integral part of the life of all Iranians. When I was a teenager, although twenty years had passed since the Islamic revolution [qui avait banni la musique pop et interdit aux femmes de chanter en public]we were still listening to the songs of Gougoush [une chanteuse très populaire, née en 1950, qui a fait le choix de rester en Iran entre 1979 et 2000 même si elle ne pouvait plus exercer son métier]Shahram Shabpareh [né en 1948, exilé aux États-Unis]Ebi [Ebrahim Hamedi de son vrai nom, né en 1949, en exil lui aussi], etc. Their songs fill us with nostalgia.

context Exile, an Iranian evil

According to a study by the government immigration observatory Iranian (IMO), more than 77,000 Iranians left their country in 2020, to find refuge in Turkey, but also in Germany, Great Britain, Iraq and Australia. According to Shargha Tehran daily, the Iranian diaspora would have increased from 820,000 people in 1990 to 1.8 million in 2020, and the Council of Iranians Living Abroad, dependent on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, would have more than 4 million emigrated.

However, experts quoted by Independent Persian, a Persian site based in New York, estimate that the number of Iranian exiles is 30% higher than official statistics. Many leaving the country illegally, they are not counted.

The lack of civil liberties and job security, economic difficulties, political repression and the various restrictions imposed on Iranians since the Islamic revolution in 1979 are powerful drivers of exodus, further analysis Independent Persian.

More and more middle-class people are taking the path of exile, in particular because of the economic crisis raging in the country, continues the New York site. These settle primarily in Turkey, because they cannot afford to live in the United States or Europe.

The government regularly calls on the diaspora not to sever its ties with Iran, inviting it in particular to invest in local economic projects.

International mail

Another reason why I use pieces of Shahram Shabpareh, Ebi or Hayedeh [une autre diva iranienne, née en 1942 et morte en exil en 1990]is that their interpreters met the same fate as that which awaits the eldest son [dont on ne sait jamais, dans le film, s’il est étudiant ou déjà diplômé, s’il part pour des raisons économiques ou politiques]. All saw their careers cut short and had to leave the country after pop music was banned. Their music and the memory of their destiny awaken a feeling of empathy in the subconscious of the spectators, they can thus share the emotions which cross the characters.

Does the on-screen relationship between the characters of father and eldest son reflect the one you share with your father, Jafar Panahi?

I wouldn’t say I have a close relationship with Jafar. But hey, since I’ve always wanted to escape my father’s shadow and build a separate identity for myself, for years I wanted to get away from him at all costs. Also, Jafar is not someone who easily expresses his emotions, communicating with him is not always easy. If we didn’t have our passion for cinema in common, our relationship would probably be quite tormented.

Hit the Road, by Panah Panahi, will be released on April 27 in France, in partnership with International mail.

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