(director/writer: Jafar Panahi; cinematographer: Amin Jafari; editor: Amir Etminan; cast: Mina Kavani (Zara), Bakhtiar Panjei (Bakhtiar), Reza Heydari (Reza), Jafar Panahi (Jafar Panahi), Naser Hashemi (Village Chief), Vahid Moberasi (Ghanbar), Javad Siyahi (Jacob), Amir Davari (Solduz), Narjes Delaram (Ghanbar’s mother), Darya Alei (Gozal), Sinan Yusufoglu (Sinan); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jafar Panahi; JP Production; 2022-Iran-in Persian, Farsi, Azerbaijani,Turkish with English subtitles)

I admire Panahi as a brave man and a great filmmaker.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The controversial Iranian auteur Jafar Panahi (“This Is Not A Film”/”Taxi Tehran”) is currently imprisoned for a six-year term after charged by the state in 2010 of
“gathering and collusion” and “propaganda against the establishment.” He served this sentence under house arrest and not being allowed to leave the country, but was arrested again on the same charges in 2022 after the release of this movie in July. He has also been banned from filmmaking for twenty-years.

It takes balls to defy his repressive country’s actions, which Panahi does despite the risks.

The film is a complex study of how to deal with facing both spiritual and physical borders, as Panahi challenges the world to answer why we give borders so much power over our lives.

Panahi’s former mentor, whom he was an assistant director to, the late great Iranian filmmaker, Abbas Kiarostami (“Through the Olive Trees”/”The Wind Will Carry Us”), who wrestled in his filmmaking over the distinction between reality and fiction in cinema, influenced Panahi’s latest film–this docu-fiction hybrid film
he made in such a resourceful way, as a political incendiary drama with significant social commentary. It’s the kind of film he has made for the last 12 years despite the restraints placed on him.

While Panahi pursues making a new film, he hides out in the tiny Iranian village of Jabbar, near the Turkish border. He works on a film by secretly consulting via an internet link with his assistant director, Reza (Reza Heydari), who is working on the film in Turkey, just across the border from him.

The story in the film-within-the film involves a couple, the cafe waitress Zara (Mina Kayani) and her husband Bakhtiar (Bakhtiar Panjei), who finally have a chance to flee Iran for France after waiting in this Turkish village for a long time. Her husband managed to get a fake passport and wants her to go to Paris with it, but she won’t go without him. Reza upon orders from Panahi, “cuts” the film at this point, as he looks at the footage on his laptop.

The playful director meanwhile befriends his host Ghanbar (Vahid Moberasi) and Ghanbar’s elderly mother (Narjes Delaram), who is hospitable even if wary of strangers in her border town. He goes to a pre-wedding ceremony with his hosts.

As a result of being there with his camera, Panahi also meets one night the troubled Gozal (Darya Alei). She is seeking a photograph she believes he took of her with Solduz (Amir Davari), the boy she loves and plans on marrying. But he’s a boy she’s not supposed to be with, since at birth she was promised to the violent lunkhead Jacob (Javad Siyahi), who would go bloody nuts if saw the photo. Since the town gossips insist he has the photo (which he says he doesn’t), the local sheriff (Naser Hashemi) gets involved and asks him to hand it over to him.

With all this going on, the dissident filmmaker vows he will fight the ugly authoritarian regime trying to stop him from being an artist and will use all the guile he has in him to never let anyone stop him.

I admire Panahi as a brave man and a great filmmaker. It’s not easy fighting for his freedom in such an oppressive country.

It won the Jury prize at Venice.

REVIEWED ON 11/29/2022  GRADE: A