Hit the Road (2021)

July 25th, 2022
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Panar Panahi | Iran, Drama 98′

A promising debut for Panar Panahi (son of Jafar) proving that Iranian cinema need not have a political subtext but can just be relaxed and reflective, as Hit the Road certainly is, in spades. Clearly well-trained under his father, Panahi hits the spot with a bittersweet but un-involving story steeped in melancholy, a road movie that successfully blends light-hearted and more sensitive moments encompassing the nuances of human behaviour and the complexities of life.

Very much a critics’ film with its arthouse style and artful framing (it premiered at Cannes Directors’ Fortnight) the pace may be too slow-burning for mainstream audiences with a lack of real dramatic tension, and unexplained plotlines – in the old Iranian style the film meanders along at its own pace bolstered by enigma, but never really reaching a conclusion, other than the predictable, sad event that brings it to a melancholy close.

A car is travelling through the Iranian countryside and 6-year-old Rayan (Sarlak) is playing along to the classical music on the radio tapping imaginary notes on a hand-painted keyboard on his father’s plaster cast – clearly his much older father (Hassan Madjooni from The Pig) has broken his leg. Rayan’s mother (Pantea Panahiha) sits in the front and his older brother (Amin Similar) is in the driving seat, a sullen young man who doesn’t quite gel with the rest of the family unit, and is permanently on the verge of tears although we never really understand why.

Panahi shifts from dark comedy to Greek tragedy, the mother frequently breaking into tearful or cheerful song as they travel along. Rayan has a tiny tantrum when his mother decides to bury his mobile phone with her bare hands by the roadside, a bizarre action that is left open for our own conclusions.

The father is a moody, avuncular man who dotes on his precocious little boy, clearly an afterthought in the couple’s long marriage. Rayan plays to the audience, sometimes disingenuously, you get the impression he is being heavily guided off camera.

As they head into the mountains, the tone grows more sombre and we discover their adorable pet dog Jessy is a stray with not long to live. It then emerges in an elegantly framed father/son tete a tete, set by a backdrop of astounding natural beauty, that all is not well with the elder brother who reflects on his future, or lack of it.

The mother clearly absorbs all the sadness of her family as well as the ebullience of little Rayan, it’s a wonderful performance from Panahiha and balances Madjooni’s laidback nonchalance. There are shades of Kiarostami in the widescreen set pieces, and inventive use of CGI in a mesmerising scene shot from above, but some may find the final act too long and drawn out.

Hit the Road is an expressive four-hander with a strong aesthetic, plenty of new ideas and solid performances. But somehow you leave feeling disappointed – and the ending doesn’t help. MT




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