Hit The Road

*****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Hit The Road
"Panahi and his actors shift through emotions so smoothly, you barely notice them until they have immersed you." | Photo: Courtesy of Director's Fortnight

A world of feelings is packed into a car along with a family and their dog Jessy in Panah Panahi's humanist hug of a debut feature, which runs the emotional gamut from the blast of joy of singing along to a favourite tune to the despair of a family unit that will never be quite the same again once they reach the end of the road.

The son of established director Jafar Panahi, on whose recent films he has worked, it seems plenty of talent has been passed down the line from father to son Panahi, whose film speaks with a unique voice and is crammed full of unexpected turns while still managing to maintain its believability and firm root in the familiar.

The reason why the family is on the road is not immediately evident, as we see dad (Hassan Madjooni) vaguely attempting to contain the chaotic ball of energy that is his youngest son (Rayan Sarlak, a naturalistic joy), while his wife (Pantea Panahiha) sits in the passenger seat and her older son (Amin Simiar) drives. There's something just slightly off about the dynamic between the older boy and the rest of the family, a seriousness that hints this is not a holiday jaunt.

Panahi quickly establishes the tight bond of the family unit, not just in the way they sing or joke together but in the famliarity with which dad's instructions to his eldest son to check mirrors as he drives off the car are greeted. The youngest son - referred to simply as "monkey the second", as in most families actual names are rarely used - fizzes along with boundless enthusiasm and there's never a dull moment with Sarlak's performance, whether he's fighting with his mum over the mobile phone he smuggled along or quizzing a cyclist they briefly pick up along the way.

The melancholy point of the trip gradually reveals itself, and though there will be heartfelt conversations stemming from this, they fall naturally into position without the hint of a gear change. Panahi and his actors shift through emotions so smoothly, you barely notice them until they have immersed you. The older stars often have two emotions running side by side, superhero for the family's youngest member, while grappling with the altogether more human feelings they're trying to hide from him. The handling of the various emotional shades is so subtle that even when Panahi breaks completely away from the naturalistic, via a dad and son conversation about Batman, or having a character suddenly lip synch straight to camera, it feels as natural and in keeping with the rhythms of the film as everything else.

In terms of framing, everything also feels carefully calibrated as Panahi and cinematographer Amin Jafari move from the claustrophobic confines of the car to beautiful worked wide angle shots of conversation at a distance or middle ground chats. The filmmaker has a gift for idle small talk, finding comedy not only in the cost of Batman's car but in the career of Lance Armstrong or the object of monkey the second's affections. He also often juxtaposes emotions and ideas, so that a serious conversation could be happening in one place, while the family's youngest kid pings carps about being tied to a tree in another.

Sometimes absurdly funny, at others profoundly moving, Panahi's film is constantly inventive, not afraid to blend down-to-earth family life with more philosophical and ethereal moments that carry you off into a different realm altogether.

Reviewed on: 30 Jul 2022
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Drama based around a road trip in a borrowed car.

Director: Panah Panahi

Writer: Panah Panahi

Starring: Hassan Madjooni, Pantea Panahiha, Rayan Sarlak, Amin Simiar

Year: 2021

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: Iran


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