Why is it always the least problematic, good hearted, politically involved filmmakers that get the biggest punishment in the long run? From Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, to Milos Forman The Firemen’s Ball, censoring and denying the right to produce work has always been a misfortunate common occurrence throughout cinema history. Jafar Panahi is unfortunately infamous for these unfortunate mis-happenings. We all know that corrupt government officials never sleep until their idiotic ideologies are complete through the mediocrity of censorship. Not only is Panahi not aloud to screen any of his films in Iran, he’s down right banned in producing content. What would you do in this scenario? Give up? Resort to a life of leisure and cooking?
The bravest thing anyone could do is retaliate against the system. And that’s what Panahi did, in his own sensible way. It started with This is Not A Film, a politically centered movie about Panahi’s experiences with social injustice, in which he secretly sent the film to the Cannes Film Festival, where it later premiered and got rousing reviews and ovations. After, he produced the documentary Taxi, a look at several random civilians who live in Tehran, and the social pressures and hardships they go through every day. Taxi then later won the Golden Bear at Berlinale.
Here we are now, at Three Faces, Panahi’s latest work, which managed to strike a chord with the Cannes Film Festival, and not only premiered there in official competition, but also garnered an award for Best Screenplay alongside Rohrwacher’s Happy as Lazzaro. With all the political affiliations and misery Panahi has gone through, the biggest shock of Three Faces is that it’s a film best described as a comedy. For a film about female oppression and the irrationality of Iranian family customs, the film uses plenty of hilarious meta-humor, using Panahi himself and his sister, as the main backdrop to confront these issues. The result? Something incredibly charming and filled with personality.
While it may be slow for some, the meta-humor and the mockumentary like touches of the film perfectly merge with the tone and pace of the product. We’re interpreting this journey from the point of view of two people in the higher class of what is essentially taken placed in a third world country, encountering and interacting with a low class village. The several nod’s and details in each and everyone of the performances works, due to the stark realism Panahi gave with his direction. The only real problem with the film is how flat it felt after the first 45 minutes. The first chunk of the film worked incredibly well as a visceral psychological and emotionally investing drama on class oppression. Following a specific reveal, the film takes a more redundant pace, and unfortunately goes into an endless cycle of repetition and derivative story beats.
While not as emotionally powerful nor poignant as Panahi’s previous work, due to the semi-lousy second half, Three Faces is still a worthy effort from a legendary contemporary artist. No matter what your political affiliation, please see this film. Cinema can be used as a form of protest, and if we all support a specific product and appreciate it’s messages and themes, we can tell people to spread the word and to take part in a bigger problem.
Cinema is magic after all.
Kino Lorber has planned a 2019 Theatrical North American Release For Three Faces, Dates TBA