Panah Panahi’s feature debut, Hit the Road, is a character study of a family on the road to help their eldest son escape the country. The film screens at NYFF and VIFF in person only.
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With its extended takes of multiple characters in frame in a car, Panah Panahi’s first feature, Hit the Road, at least begins by resembling the films of his father, Jafar Panahi (who directed Taxi, This Is Not a Film, 3 Faces, and more). But by the film’s second act, the world has opened up beyond the car, and by the third, there are even some fantastical sequences. Despite some extreme wide shots of sweeping landscapes, Hit the Road is first and foremost a character study of an Iranian family on the road to help their eldest son escape the country. The film begins midway through their journey as the family unit — tired, anxious, but full of love — figure out their next steps.
Along for the ride are the mother, father, family dog, and the irrepressible youngster (Rayan Sarlak) who, at six, is too young to understand the stakes of what’s going on but not too young to take “important phone calls” or have already affianced himself to his close friend. The boy’s presence means that the adults can only talk around what’s going on, so we only get bits and pieces of information, while some details are never explained, like how the father has broken his leg and both hands.
Like last year’s Bandar Band, Hit the Road takes us on a tour of different parts of Iran, often not shown on film, but there’s also no clear destination. There’s talk of the family returning home after the journey, but just as often, we hear about how the home they had no longer exists. The journey will also be the cause of a major family fracture, so can they recover? Also looming in the offing is the death of the sick family dog, who is helping keep the youngster entertained and happy but spells future heartbreak. In long takes, we see the sadness of the mother who is trying to keep it together, the humour of the father who is doing the same, and the vivaciousness of their youngest, who keeps them all going.
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