Jafar Panahi could not attend the premiere of his film Taxi at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival. He can't attend much of anything outside of his home.
Panahi, deemed as an anti-regime propagandist, was arrested for creating "propaganda against the Islamic Republic" and put under house arrest. However, because of a technicality in Iranian Law, Panahi isn't violating his sentence if he's in his vehicle. Ever the innovator, Panahi mounted a dashboard camera in his car to film Taxi and began driving the streets of Tehran.
What resulted is a sweet, sad, mystifying, must-see film.
The story of how Taxi was made is surpassed only by the film itself, which has already won the Golden Bear prize from the Berlin Film Festival and is being hailed as one of the best foreign films of the year.
Taxi feels breezy and spontaneous, and I wasn't sure if I was watching a documentary or a fictionalized narrative feature. Only in the final seconds of the film did I come to a conclusion—I won't spoil it for you. Most important, the audience learns more about contemporary Iran than from any news report, and never once does it feel preachy or manipulative. Rather, it reflects Iran's troubled society by embracing its citizenry, each sharing the foibles of their own daily lives with their taxi driver, Panahi. By limiting the entire setting of his film to the front and back seats of a vehicle, Panahi also frames his own dilemma in the tight enclosure. As a result, it's a compelling exposition of freedom as we watch Panahi's passengers come and go, knowing Panahi's own freedom of speech is regularly threatened.
In the weeks following my screening of Taxi, my admiration for it grew. This lovely work is filled with humor, gentle meditation and provocative debate. Its very existence outside Iran is a wonder, and it is one of the most unassuming examples of social criticism I've ever encountered.
Taxi is, without question, one of the most original experiences you will have at the movies this year.