Hit the Road – Film Review
by Hugh Maguire
Director – Panah Panahi
Writer – Panah Panahi
Stars – Pantea Panahiha, Hasan Majuni, Rayan Sarlak
The successful British TV comedy, Car Share (2015-18), starring Peter Kay, introduced the viewer to a world of narrative possibilities in the very confined space of a car. More gratingly perhaps James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke shows that the confines of space set no limit on the imagination or entertainment value. Something of this same quality is to be found in this hugely enjoyable, heartfelt, and moving road movie – a genre seemingly popular in Iranian cinema. And whereas in some road movies the narrative is about stuff encountered along the way – here the ‘stuff’ remains, for the most part, confined within the car itself – reflecting the tight (suffocating?) family unit.
We follow the middle-aged parents, their twenty-something son behind the wheel, and an improbably hyperactive six or seven-year-old – who manages to be both infuriating and adorable (think Calvin and Hobbes and add steroids). The father is incapacitated with a leg in a plaster cast and they are all off to an unknown border crossing where the driver, their son, is set to part from the family and be smuggled into Turkey. Where they are coming from we do not know and where he is going to we know less. The landscape gives little away, majestic but intimidating. The parents have committed everything to get him on his way, selling belongings and running the risk of being stopped and questioned, possibly by the secret police. Why he is leaving is left to our imagination. If it is the regime in Iran we can only guess – the regime is certainly not alluded to directly, so it could theoretically be for any number of crimes or misdemeanours. Although given his gentle manner we can rule crime out, but he clearly has to get away. His parents have such enormous love for him, that even though their hearts are breaking at the loss of their son and his uncertain future they try to keep a jolly front. So jolly in fact that he regularly snaps at his mother and is then all too clearly consumed with guilt. He, and we, can see that she is just keeping up a positive show.
Meanwhile, the show-stealing child is oblivious to all the heartbreak and drama going on and is consumed in his own world, with shouts and screams and an adult vocabulary picked up in the gutter it would seem, but for which he is never reprimanded. He is the master of all he surveys and like the parents, we too are at his command.
There are superb directorial details which suggest the lived experience of the director himself – such as the father automatically rehearsing car handling guidance as if teaching a teenager to drive – indicate, brake, clutch and so on. As if there aren’t more significant things on the son’s mind. Donal Ryan’s From a Low and Quiet Sea (2018) imagines the life of a man escaping with his family from a war-torn country. With laughs a minute, thanks to the child, this film in the most moving way possible takes us on a journey through the hearts of loving parents who will stop at nothing to save their own flesh and blood. It is deeply felt, heartbreaking in its way, but cinema of the highest order – just wonderful!