The Iranian film director, Panah Panahi’s debut film “Hit the Road” is a bittersweet road story with impeccable acting performances. Though it takes us through Iran on a road trip, it shows us the family’s anxiety and despair sometimes sweetened by a 6-year-old child.
Hit the Road reminds me of the most common writing tip that says, “Show, don’t tell”. Or we can also refer to the quote “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” By Anton Chekov. The movie follows the rule very well both logically and emotionally.
A Bittersweet Road Trip
A mysteriously paranoid family is on a road trip. The road trip includes a car with a family of four. Among the four, there is a father with a freshly broken plastered leg walking with two scratches played by Hassan Madjooni, and an introspective mother played by the brilliant Pantea Panahiha. Along with them, they have their quiet and mystic elder son played by Amin Simiar, and an energetic younger son played by Rayan Sarlak.
From the beginning, we understand that some kind of anxiety has devoured the three elderly alive. It is a road trip with an unclear destination while the child’s energetic, annoying yet sweet characteristic distracts the adults from the unspoken anxiety.
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The story is simple. The parents are taking their exuberant, anxious, and mystic elder son to the Turkish border so that he can escape from the state. On the other hand, they cannot talk about the problem because of the six-year-old boy.
Facts are Brilliantly Unspoken
The director’s brilliant placement of the boy actually helps him logically avoid the talk about what happened. The six-year-old’s presence means that the adults can only talk about what is happening now. And this cunning and artistic narrative style, helps him give us less information.
Some details are never explained in the film. For example, how the father broke his leg and injured his hands. Moreover, there is no clue why do they want to smuggle their elder son to Turkey. Until the second act, everything was intact in a claustrophobic car with four people and a sick dog. But in the second act, the matters are taken outside of the car. In the third act, there are some beautiful sequences with panoramic images of rugged landscapes. But after that, there is an Iranian family on the road anxiously reaching their destination to help their eldest son escape the country. But nobody tells us why he has to flee. Is it something political? Must be!
The director Panah Panahi’s brilliant scripting and direction have given us a new voice who is capable of saying a lot without saying any word. Of course, he is the son of filmmaker Jafar Panahi, a prestigious Iranian filmmaker known for Taxi Tehran and Offside, banned by the Iranian government after he was found guilty of spreading antigovernmental propaganda. Panah must have learned a lesson from his father which led him to masterfully put his voice into work. He has also worked as an assistant to Abbas Kiarostami adding another feather to his wing. Though he is significantly influenced by the two veteran filmmakers, he has a distinct voice of his own.
Emotions And Anxiety
There are a lot of emotions and anxiety attached to the family. We see a mother keeping the family together despite her endless sadness. Then there is the humorous father and the boy with endless energy, curiosity, and cuteness keeping the journey ahead.
“Hit The Road” is a journey through an unknown Iranian landscape very little displayed in films. While moving through the spectacular landscape, the film deals with certain emotional estate filled with anxiety unknown to the audience. But in their emotions and anxiety, everyone in the family plays a role.
Among the two sons, one is the center of anxiety, while the other is a sweetener. The six-year-old’s annoying cuteness gives us comic relief despite the mysterious fear that is hunting the adults along with the audience. The bearded father on the other hand tries to suppress his emotions and fears as all father does. And the mother plays a very empathetic but stoic character having a very strong bond with her eldest son. Apart from the four, the sick dog is a metaphor that highlights the unrest.
With this anxious, uncertain, and elegiac weather, Panahi’s directorial debut feature film finds a distinctly elegant style. His masterful plotting and the narrative style have a hypnotic composition that represents his father’s generation. Furthermore, many of his scenes are uniquely composed like beautiful visual poetry.
Soulful Acting with Perfect Characterization
As a directorial feature film debut, Panahi’s characterization is impeccably veteran enough. The casting choice is exceptionally favorable to the film’s elegant theme. Everyone did fantastically brilliant acting in their role.
The great Iranian actress, Pantea Panahiha as the mother of the two is the emotional center of the film. On the other hand, Hassan Madjooni, as a father has given his best to the character by balancing his own anxiety and responsibility.
Amin Simiar’s character as the eldest son couldn’t be better. As the center of the family’s anxiety, and a departing person with an unknown fate, Amin performed well.
But, the young Sarlak stole the show in the role of the six-year-old son. Undoubtedly, he is the character who carries the film forward. Without him, “Hit the Road” would have been lost in what we call monotony. He is the energy of the drama and his carefree innocence contrasts with the concerns they carry. Every time this six-year-old takes the screen, the audience is taken out of the chaos of the adult world. And he is the eye of the film that put everything in a different and playful perspective.
Overall, the characterization, and settings, became alive with Amin Jafari’s cinematography. He captured the proper beauty of northern Iran which also put a nostalgic feeling among the audience seen through the eyes of the family. So, Hit the Road is a very good feature film debut by Panah Panahi. And of course, he is a promising young filmmaker with a distinct voice in Iranian film.