(director/writer: Jafar Panahi; screenwriter: Nader Saeivar; cinematographer: Amin Jafari; editors: Mastaneh Mohajer, Panah Panahi; cast: Behnaz Jafari, Jafar Panahi, Marziyeh Rezaei, Maedeh Erteghaei, Narges Delaram (Mother); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jafar Panahi; Kino Lorber; 2018-Iran-in Turkish, Persian, Farsi and Azerbaijani with English subtitles)

An enlightening, humanistic film that only a great filmmaker can make under such repressive conditions.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Another insightful arthouse drama directed by the defiant under house arrest Iranian director Jafar Panahi (“This is Not A Film”/”The White Balloon”), who cannot leave his country. He has completed nine years of a 20-year ban on making films. Under these seemingly impossible circumstances to shoot films, he has made four experimental films. The latest, a road film that’s set in hostile rural territory, near the Turkish border, comes with a narrative, unlike the four previous ones but somewhat like the great films he made previously when free. It opens with a young woman (Marziyeh Rezael) on smartphone footage, while walking through a cave, lamenting that she can’t fulfill her dream of becoming an actress because her parents refuse to let her go to the conservatory after promising she could go if she got engaged. She lives in a religiously conservative remote patriarchal traditional farming village. When she mentions her failed attempt to contact for support her favorite Iranian star, Behnaz Jafari, and attempts to hang herself from a tree, the video is seen by the real Jafar Panahi and Behnaz Jafari. They are in a car together, in Tehran, where they are making a film. They impulsively drive to the young woman’s village to see if she is okay or if it was a prank, as Behnaz is guilt-ridden and says she never received such messages from the girl. At the girl’s small village, they stay over for a few days and meet several of the locals. They include a weird woman who spends a couple of hours a day lying in her future grave, thinking this will ensure she gets into heaven quicker. They also learn of a former movie actress who now lives in the village, in retirement, as a painter, but is treated with suspicion as an outcast because of her career as an actress. It’s a lyrical and gentle minor Panahi film, one that is political in intent even if not overtly political. What it does is allow through this parable the famous visitors to think again about their country’s extremist views and show the western world (no one in Iran will see the film) Iran’s real world. It also shows the vast differences between the more sophisticated city folk from Teheran and those more volatile or superstitious ones from the rural areas. In its simple observational story, a mischievous one, it tells us that there’s both hope and no hope in modern Iran. The hope lies in the possibility of escaping from the oppressive situation, just like the visitors fled the village to safety after attacked by a rock thrower. The result is an enlightening, humanistic film that only a great filmmaker can make under such repressive conditions.