Despite the fact that he is only in the 8th year of 20 year ban from filmmaking by the Iranian government Jafar Panahi is still managing to make excellent films on the ‘downlow’ which somehow find their way to prestigious European Film Festival where they add to his collection of Awards. His latest one 3 Faces which he co-wrote, directed, produced and starred in, takes a look at the massive gender inequality in his country and which manages to end on a high note which will warm any feminist’s heart.
The film opens with a shaky Iphone video made by Marziyeh (Marziyeh Rezaei) a teenage girl in a mountainous cave who says that as her family has banned her from attending acting conservatory she is going to take her own life. She has arranged to have her friend send the video to the famous actress Mrs. Jafari (played by well-known Iranian actress Behnaz Jafari.)
The actress is alarmed enough to immediately leave the set of the movie she is currently shooting and persuade her producer (played by Panahi) to head off to the remote mountains to see what they can do. She alternates from being concerned about the girl’s state to downright annoyed at being unwittingly dragged into a drama about which they know very little details.
Panahi enlivened the whole proceedings of this road movie with a series of rather bizarre scenarios which had nothing to do with the main plot. but serve to illustrate a culture that few of us know little about. Probably the best of these was as Mrs Jafari and Panahi check out a local cemetery to see if there is a fresh dug grave to indicate that the girl had succeeded, they come across one with an old lady camped out in it.. She tells them that she is making herself comfortable in what will be her final home.
When they finally reach Marziyeh’s village they are met with hostility from the locals who are angry about the disgrace the girl will bring on them for wanting to go to study acting. For her own safety she has left her family home and is hiding out with another actress Shahrazade, who lives as a recluse having been ostracized following years of mistreatment by male directors
This engaging film is even more remarkable because director Panahi who despite having been ostracized himself by the Iranian Authorities (who wouldn’t even allow him an exit visa to go to his screening at Cannes) treats it as a emphatic view on the struggles of others and not about his own troubles. The emancipation of women which seems like decades away in Iran is treated with a level of indignation but also more importantly so much respect and understanding. The fact his lead character is an extremely successful actress (so beautifully played by Behnaz Jafari.) may give hope that change is possible but still very unlikely.
3 Faces that won Panahri a Best Screenplay Award at Cannes makes for compelling viewing and thanks to his occasional infusion of humor , very entertaining too.