Combustible Celluloid
 
With: Behnaz Jafari, Jafar Panahi, Marziyeh Rezaei, Maedeh Erteghaei
Written by: Jafar Panahi, Nader Saeivar
Directed by: Jafar Panahi
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Persian, Azerbaijani, Turkish, with English subtitles
Running Time: 100
Date: 03/29/2019
IMDB

3 Faces (2019)

4 Stars (out of 4)

The Act We Act

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Nine years into a 20-year ban on making films, the great Iranian director Jafar Panahi has managed to make a fourth film. I didn't manage to see Closed Curtain, his second, but This Is Not a Film and Taxi were experimental in nature, with self-referential and subjective; the characters were aware of making a film and being filmed. His latest, 3 Faces, harkens back to his earlier films, masterpieces like The White Balloon and Offside.

3 Faces contains more of a narrative story, with an objective camera that just happens to be capturing these incidents. It even includes Panahi's trademark long takes and curiously indirect approach, often staying on the sidelines and not showing the drama an audience expects. Yet it still feels like a clandestine film, with its frequent use of dashboard-mounted cameras, spying. And, when it comes together, it feels like yet another great film from Panahi, very much worth seeking out.

It begins with some amateur smartphone footage (shot vertically, like so many amateur videos these days) of a young woman wandering through a cave. She tells the camera about her dream of becoming an actor, all of the impediments she has faced, and her failed attempts to contact Iranian star Behnaz Jafari (perhaps best known here for her role in Samira Makhmalbaf's Blackboards) for help. Then she appears to hang herself from a protruding branch.

Then, Behnaz (playing herself) is driving with Jafar (playing himself), to discover what happened. Behnaz never received any messages from the girl, and is perplexed, feeling somehow responsible and filled with guilt. They wind up in a small village, where, over the course of a couple of days, they encounter several locals. They learn about a car horn-honking ritual as a way of handling the single-lane dirt road, and they meet a woman who likes to lie in her future grave, hoping for a pass into heaven, and they learn of a woman, a former film star, treated like an outcast.

It's a calm, patient, deeply poetic film, often spent waiting and thinking. But it also has a satisfying dramatic arc; it's not one of those arthouse films that just ends. It even feels like both Jafar and Behnaz will come away as new people after their journey, more thoughtful and perhaps more understanding. Yet it's not a superficial film, nothing is forced or manipulative; it's no standard "road trip" movie. It's also important to remember that the film itself is a political act, a statement of defiance. As beautifully contemplative as it is, it has a boldness running through it. It's a work of art about the right to create a work of art.

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