This début feature was shown in Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes this year. But then the writer-director has the distinction of being the son of Jafar Panahi. In the film’s online introduction, Panah Panahi explained that he has always liked to start watching films ‘from zero’ and that he didn’t want his audience to read about or be told about his film before they watched it. I’d better be careful and not say too much.
As the title implies this is a form of road movie. For an ancient viewer like me it has been very difficult to think of the title without adding ‘Jack’ – ‘Hit the Road Jack’ by Ray Charles (1961) was a classic song of my youth. Of course, road movies often have music on car radios or players and this film continues the tradition. The Iranian pop songs of the 1970s are enjoyable and especially in the way they are used here. We meet four people who are probably related but we don’t get their names. There is an older couple, a younger man as the driver and a small boy, a real bundle of energy. There is also a dog, possibly sick or injured. Why are they together on this journey? Where are they going and why? We will find out over the course of the film, though we won’t ever know everything. You will however, have a wonderful time and will be glad you saw the film. I can’t guarantee that of course but all the reactions I’ve seen have been good.
If you saw the film 3 Faces (Iran 2018), made by Jafar Panahi, it could give you some idea about what you might see in Hit the Road. This new film is not a copy or a sequel, but the region where it was shot looks familiar. It might be in the mountains of Northern Iran from where the Panahi family originate. 3 Faces was edited by Panah Panahi and it was photographed by Amin Jafari. Panah Panahi asked him to shoot Hit the Road and in the Q&A said that they worked well together with the cinematographer providing advice about working with actors. Panah Panahi had previously made his own music video productions but did not have the experience of working with successful actors such as Pantea Panahiha as the woman and Hassan Majouni as her partner. The director revealed that he eventually realised that they each approached their roles very differently and that it was best to to allow this to happen rather than attempt to impose his own ideas. The young boy and the young man are played by actors who I don’t think have had previous experience so would have to have been directed differently. But however he did it Panahi found the right method.
What I’ve described sounds like a familiar realist/neo-realist road movie enhanced by the treatment of landscape. Panahi told us that he and Jafari decided to stick with ‘normal’ lenses (i.e. 35-50mm) and to avoid any spatial distortion. This is another familiar aspect of a neo-realist approach, especially with the use of long shots – ‘figures in a landscape’- see the trailer below. Panahi does however offer us a very beautiful and moving fantasy sequence towards the end of the film which is all the more affecting because of the contrast with what we have seen previously.
Hit the Road has been acquired for UK and Ireland distribution by Picturehouse so it will come to UK cinemas. I note that it is also screening in the Leeds International Film Festival in November. Try and see it if it comes to a cinema near you. It will look very good on a big screen.
Here’s a very good trailer that shows you the four characters and gives glimpses of the use of landscapes, but doesn’t give away anything concrete about the narrative as such.