×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘3 Faces’

Jafar Panahi and actress Behnaz Jafari take a storied, allusive road trip through the repressive territory of patriarchal rural Iran.

Director:
Jafar Panahi
With:
Behnaz Jafari, Jafar Panahi, Marziyeh Rezaei, Maedeh Erteghaei, Narges Del Aram. (Farsi, Azeri dialogue)

1 hour 40 minutes

We are now eight years into the 20-year filmmaking ban imposed on Iranian director Jafar Panahi, for allegedly making propaganda against his country’s regime. “3 Faces” is the fourth film he has made illicitly under conditions a lesser director might find paralyzing. But Panahi’s irrepressible, mischievous storytelling instinct has with tenacious regularity found its way through the cracks and onto the biggest international stages, even though the man himself cannot leave the country.

“This Is Not A Film,” “Closed Curtain,” and Berlin Golden Bear winner “Taxi” were all metafictions that saw him kick against those insupportable restrictions by making them his subject, and it’s been fascinating to watch the rough-and-ready style he developed out of necessity evolve into something of a distinctive aesthetic. That stylistic evolution continues with “3 Faces,” most noticeably with Amin Jafari’s graceful, often bravura handheld camerawork. But the really absorbing paradox here is that by shifting his focus away from his own lack of freedom and onto that of a whole underclass of Iranian womanhood, Panahi has made what feels like his freest film since the ban was imposed, if also his most elusive, earning a best screenplay prize at Cannes that should lend the film an added profile in its travels.

Godard said all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun; all Panahi needs is a girl and a noose. “3 Faces” opens with arresting selfie smartphone footage of a young woman, Marziyeh (Marziyeh Rezaei) apparently driven to suicide by her family’s prohibition against her becoming an actress. Her plaintive appeal is addressed to the successful Mrs. Jafari (well-known Iranian actress Behnaz Jafari, like all the main cast playing a version of herself), and it reaches her via her director friend, Jafar Panahi. Behnaz pivots between agony at the idea that her neglect may have contributed to the girl’s suicide, and a deep suspicion that the footage has been faked and the whole situation is an elaborate ruse. She and Panahi set off for the girl’s remote, Turkish-Azeri-speaking home village to investigate.

That drama could easily power a different film through to its conclusion. But Panahi abruptly “solves” the mystery halfway through, as though cutting the film’s motor, the better to allow the narrative’s looser, more allusive undercurrents to steer it where they will. On their road trip the famous actress and the famous dissident director have several pointedly odd encounters that unfold with almost folk-mythology whimsy. An old woman settles herself into her pre-dug grave, equipping it with a lamp to keep away the snakes who’ll come for her “for the bad I’ve done.” A villager insists Behnaz take tea with him (the famous Iranian hospitality is often depicted less as friendliness and more as yet another unwritten but rigidly enforced ritual), and hands her a small sackcloth containing his adult son’s infant foreskin as a talisman. A large bull with a broken leg blocks a narrow mountain road while its owner explains he cannot destroy it because it is the “bull with the golden balls,” a stud animal who once impregnated 10 cows in a single night. In the moment, these incidents feel like gentle sidetracks, like Panahi observing the quirks of his parents’ home region with a mixture of affection and exasperation. But cumulatively they create the backdrop of pervasive patriarchy and small-town small-mindedness against which the main story can unfold.

That story, it gradually emerges, is of three women, all actresses: Marziyeh, Behnaz, and a third, older woman, Shahrazade, who lives as a recluse having been ostracized following years of mistreatment by male directors. There is a deep eloquence in calling your film “3 Faces” and keeping one of those faces invisible, but that’s what Panahi does here: We never see Shahrazade, and so she becomes almost mythically emblematic of the injustices and double standards that Iranian actresses labor under, when they can be revered as celebrities and castigated as morally corrupt almost in the same breath.

Panahi’s own role is markedly less central than in his last three films. Mostly he is the silent observer, with leisurely, Kiarostami-esque long takes, often showing a character’s full journey to the camera from a far-off pathway, contributing to the film’s meditative, pensive rhythm. It makes “3 Faces” less punchily playful than “Taxi,” but more moving and ultimately more valuable. This is Jafar Panahi, a filmmaker with more cause than most to feel victimized, turning a deeply respectful, artful and compassionate eye outward, to the struggles of others, and finding such empathy there that the film amounts to a heartfelt statement of solidarity. He is perhaps becoming resigned to his bondage, even as he’s becoming more adept at working around it, but with “3 Faces,” the caged Panahi is determined to sing someone else’s song, and in times like these, such generosity of spirit is its own quietly fierce act of cinematic defiance.

Film Review: '3 Faces'

Reviewed at Karlovy Vary Film Festival, June 30, 2018. (Also in Cannes film festival.) Running Time: 100 MIN. (Original Title: "Se Rokh")

Production: (Iran) A Jafar Panahi Film Production production. (International sales: Celluloid Dreams, Paris.) Producer: Jafar Panahi.

Crew: Director: Jafar Panahi. Screenplay: Panahi, Nader Saeivar. Camera (Color, widescreen): Amin Jafari. Editors: Mastaneh Mohajer, Panah Panahi.

With: Behnaz Jafari, Jafar Panahi, Marziyeh Rezaei, Maedeh Erteghaei, Narges Del Aram. (Farsi, Azeri dialogue)

More Film

  • Sean Penn

    Sean Penn to Direct, Star in 'Flag Day' With Daughter Dylan Penn

    Sean Penn is set to direct and star in the conman drama “Flag Day” alongside his daughter Dylan Penn, his son Hopper Penn, Josh Brolin and Miles Teller. The cast includes two-time Tony Award winner Norbert Leo Butz (“Fosse/Verdon”), Dale Dickey, Eddie Marsan, Bailey Noble, and Katheryn Winnick (“Vikings”). Jez Butterworth (“Edge of Tomorrow”) wrote [...]

  • China Film Group chairman La Peikang

    Shanghai: China Film Group Announces 28 Title Lineup

    China Film Group announced a line-up of 28 films at a large event on the sidelines of the Shanghai International Film Festival that feted both the mainland’s main distributor and the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. “Nearly a thousand film industry people wished the motherland a beautiful and happy [...]

  • Avengers: Endgame

    Disney Re-Releasing 'Avengers: Endgame' in Effort to Beat 'Avatar' Box Office Record

    If “Avengers: Endgame” doesn’t beat “Avatar’s” all-time box office record, it won’t be for lack of trying. Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige told numerous publications that “Avengers: Endgame” will be re-released in theaters with extended footage that didn’t make it into the initial film, which already clocks in at a butt-numbing three hours and one [...]

  • Soul Pixar

    Disney Unveils Pixar Movie 'Soul' With 2020 Summer Release Date

    Disney has unveiled “Soul” as an upcoming original Pixar film, which will debut on June 19, 2020. “Soul” will be the second original Pixar film next year after “Onward,” which opens on March 6. The studio announced Wednesday that it had dated the film. While plot details are scarce, Pixar did release the tagline for [...]

  • Riverdale Alladin Avengers Endgame

    'Avengers: Endgame,' 'Riverdale,' 'Aladdin' Top 2019 Teen Choice Award Nominations

    The nominations for the 2019 Teen Choice Awards have been revealed, and voting has opened for the top movies, TV shows and music that has dominated the last year. “Avengers: Endgame” and “Aladdin” are the top contenders in the movie category with nine and five nods, respectively. In TV, “Riverdale,” “The Flash” and “Shadowhunters” each [...]

  • 'Toy Story 4' Box Office: Pixar

    Box Office: 'Toy Story 4' Building to $140 Million-Plus Debut

    After a lackluster few weeks at movie theaters, it’s Woody and Buzz Lightyear to the rescue. The dynamic duo is returning to multiplexes for Disney and Pixar’s “Toy Story 4.” The fourth installment in the CGI series is expected to earn north of $140 million when it opens in 4,500 theaters across North America. If [...]

  • Yu Dong, Andrew Lau, Han Han,

    Shanghai Party: Red Carpet Rolled out at Bona Film Group 20th Anniversary Event

    No deal announcements. No talk of the Chinese film industry’s ongoing winter of discontent. Instead the parade of talent on stage Wednesday night at Shanghai’s Wanda Reign hotel put their troubles aside for a moment and celebrated the 20th anniversary of producer-distributor-exhibition company Bona Film Group. At regular intervals, Bona’s founder and chairman Yu Dong [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content