Starring Behnaz Jafari. In Farsi and Turkish, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable
For a guy under house arrest and banned from filmmaking, Jafar Panahi sure gets around! In Taxi, he played a version of himself, reduced to making clandestine filmlets about varied customers stuck in Tehran traffic. For 3 Faces, he gets back in the car and travels to Iran’s far northwest, near Azerbaijan, where more people speak Turkish than Farsi.
Screen Panahi wants to help a friend-veteran TV star Behnaz Jafari, as sort-of herself-solve a grim mystery. A young woman from this dusty region has sent her a video of what looks like her own suicide, because her peasant family would not allow her to attend the art school that accepted her. Both travellers suspect the cellphone footage was staged, but they are shaken enough to seek out the remote mountain village referred to in the message.
The resulting movie is an episodic adventure, told in the plainly realistic style of Panahi’s mentor, the late Abbas Kiarostami. But the journey grows more mythical as it moves through harsh terrain, and our sojourners encounter language barriers on multiple levels. Along their La Strada-like way, they encounter strangers who ply them with sweet tea and odd stories—there’s even the unexpected, but well explained, gift of a stray foreskin—as well as the usual resentments against “urban elites”.
The locals recognize Jafari from TV soaps, and don’t seem bothered by her brash red hair. But women are otherwise expected to stay hidden in purely supportive roles. The notion of a crumbling patriarchy and the toxic mix of religion and politics becomes clearer with frequent references to someone called Scheherazade, an elderly actress who has retired on a nearby hillside. We only glimpse her from a distance, but her tales dominate the landscape.
The movie could have used a little more visual magic to go along with its sly metaphors, but the final shot-with women literally leading the way-is one for the ages.