Jafar Panahi’s Taxi provides a window into contemporary life in Iran through this terrific made-to-look-like non-fiction narrative film set entirely inside Panahi’s cab over the course of a single day.
Jafar Panahi’s Taxi (AKA Tehran Taxi) opens with an utterly absorbing nine-minute uncut take. The first image is a view through the dashboard window of a yellow car wandering the streets of Tehran. A man and then a woman hail the car, which stops for them to get in, signaling that this is a taxi. Once the man and woman are inside, we hear a hand turning the dashboard camera around to film the car’s passengers.
Their conversation turns to criminal punishment and whether the death penalty is a righteous option. The man is ignorant, rude, and loud, refusing to accept anything the woman says as reasonable. The woman is polite and patient, even as she gets increasingly exasperated. Only then do we cut, almost imperceptibly, to a shot of the driver: Panahi, a non-actor playing himself (we’ll call his character Jafar).
It’s a striking first shot, allowing the story to unfold in real-time, which gives the illusion of non-fiction filmmaking: the camera doesn’t move unless we see it moved by someone. It’s as if Jafar merely set up a camera on his dashboard before taking off to spend the day driving around town as a cab driver. It’s so immersive that it allows the film to “cheat” later on by including shots that wouldn’t be possible without stopping the scene. Panahi often cuts between closeups of the driver and the passenger, which appear to be shot from a camera in the same position, only rotated, without allowing time for such a camera to move. But we barely notice the rules being broken. We’re already under the film’s naturalistic spell.