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Jafar Panahi has here created a quietly engaging quasi-realist parable, part of his ongoing and unique creative cine-autobiography, full of intelligence and humility and a real respect for women and for female actors. It is gentle, elusive, and redolent of this director’s mysterious Iranian zen. His films are always intensely watchable, though this one appears to be reaching back 20 years or so to an earlier kind of classic Iranian cinema, from a time when filmic language needed to be more encoded. It feeds off and often directly alludes to classics like Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry and The Wind Shall Carry Us.
There can of course hardly be any film-maker alive more qualified to address in the audience in that vein, but I was a little disconcerted that Panahi did not continue in his own more modern, more directly humorous and explicit engagement with the politics and society of modern Iran, the sort of work he showed us in This Is Not a Film and Taxi Tehran. 3 Faces does allude to his current condition of house arrest and inability to leave Iran, but otherwise there is something a bit inscrutable about it, though always humane.
Whose are the three faces? It is an open question. One is Marziyeh (Marziyeh Rezael), a young woman from a remote village who dreams of attending the conservatory in Tehran and becoming an actress. Another is Behnaz Jafari, playing herself, a famous actor, who appears to be shooting a film directed by the movie’s third well-known face: that of the genial, avuncular, imperturbably good-natured Panahi himself. But there is another face, a hidden face: that of an female actor from the pre-revolutionary days, who has come to Marziyeh’s village in her retirement to paint. She is regarded with utmost suspicion by villagers who, despite their fan-worship of the female actors’ celebrity status, retain a patriarchal suspicion of female actors whose time has come and gone – female actors who have lost their profession and fame and now simply women again. She is an enigmatic presence.
The movie begins on a shocking note. We see smartphone video footage, shot portrait-style, of Marziyeh, desperately beseeching help from Jafari to help in her career; she says her parents promised to let her go to the conservatory if she agreed to get engaged, but now they have let her down. The film appears to show Marziyeh about to hang herself in a remote cave, the camera lens falls away from her face as it goes into the noose and clatters to the stony floor. But Marziyeh has somehow texted this to the famous star. Astonished, horrified, and annoyed at what she clearly considers some kind of imposture, Jafari tells her director to forget about their filming schedule and come with her to this village so they can find out the truth.
The strangeness of the video’s provenance is, perhaps oddly, not clearly addressed by either of them, and they spend their time arguing about the far less relevant question of how or if it has been edited. But the point is: if the girl really is dead, how did the video get texted to Jafari? Did an accomplice do it? How did this young woman have the star’s number come to that? It is hard to tell how intentional these mysteries are.
Anyway, director and star arrive and their illustrious presence causes a sensation among the rural people thereabouts, despite some residual annoyance that these prestigious urbanites cannot somehow fix the problems they are having with their electricity supply. One local man teaches Panahi the custom of honking his car horn as he drives up the winding mountain road so that oncoming traffic can be negotiated, particularly people driving cows, a consideration which is finally to create a bittersweet image. One elderly man talks to Jafari about the importance of circumcision and reveals his own interest in movie history of Iran. It is charming and amusing interlude.
The crunch comes when Panahi and Jafari find out the truth about Marziyeh and discover which members of her family are amenable to her wishes and which are not. This latter constituency is clearly resentful of Panahi’s own intervention: a certain man picks up a rock and in the next shot we see evidence of a worrying impact on Panahi’s windshield as he drives away.
As in actor, playing himself in his own films, Panahi is always a beguiling presence, a figure of pure disarming wisdom and calm. No wonder the Iranian authorities don’t know how to handle their world-famous prisoner. But sometimes Panahi’s style is a little opaque in these overtly dramatic situations. His film ends on a note of hope, of escape, albeit an escape that has to be managed in a desperate hurry. Panahi’s camera lingers on the austere and unchanging landscape, as it is this, rather than the flurry of human interaction, which is his true subject. A minor, but still rewarding Panahi film.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: 3 Faces review: Jafar Panahi’s latest is calm, modest – and inscrutable | Cannes 2018