Gemma Creagh gets into gear with this powerful Iranian drama, Hit the Road.
Most of us with memories from a pre-iphone era will have experienced those arduous, seemingly never-ending car trips at some point. You know the ones: where the hours stretch on like days; where you go toe to toe with your siblings over an inch of seat; and the shared space becomes more claustrophobic with every mile. Powerful Iranian dramedy, Hit the Road is an authentic manifestation of those journeys, masterfully playing on the mundane, on the familiarity of these interactions, as it tells the story of one set of parents driving cross country with their two sons and one handsome pupper.
While on the surface, the discussions turn to bickering over car mechanics, or to the ethicacy of fairness in sport, there’s a weight hanging unaddressed in the air, until the purpose of the journey is eventually revealed. These loving parents (Pantea Panahiha and Hasan Majun) are to say goodbye to their eldest son Farid (Amin Simia) and are en route to smuggle him across the Turkish border. Meanwhile, their youngest son (Rayan Sarlak), full of inane yet adorable, high-energy chatter, is left in the dark about the meaning of this pilgrimage, as well as the failing health of his boisterous canine companion.
A surprisingly accomplished first feature, Director Panah Panahi comes straight out the gate with something masterful and confident. He uses a deft hand with the drama; and allows silence and subtext to do the emotional heavy lifting – not quite a gamble with a cast this skilled. Yet there’s a lightness to the film, and the smooth, well-paced plot is dappled with real moments of hilarity. These unnamed characters are unnervingly well-observed, and feel so familiar. In an interview for the 59th New York Film Festival, Panahi revealed that the film is loosely based on the experience of his family, when his sister had to leave the country for her own safety, and how mournful and nostalgic they became. Panahi’s skills weren’t created in a vacuum, however. He has worked in the film industry across a variety of roles from assistant to editor, and is the son of Iranian director Jafar Panahi. A brave man who was just sentenced to serve a six-year prison sentence after inquiring about the detention of two fellow filmmakers.
There’s a boldness to the film’s unconventional cinematography – the majority of the plot is set in the cramped unphotogenic cabin of a vehicle. One of the sweetest moments in the film captures a benign, meandering discussion about the batmobile between the father and his youngest son, elevating it, submerging the pair in beautiful dreamlike visuals. We spend a great deal of time with the parents, the father especially, capturing the sweat glistening on his brow, or a sideways glance as he scratches his grimy toes. Yet – Panahi opted for a long, one-take very wide shot to capture one of the most emotionally pivotal scenes of the whole film. An unorthodox choice, one of many that ultimately works.
The pacing, laughter, depth, withholding of information, and performances all combine to create something both hilarious and heartbreaking. A celebration of life and love.
Hit the Road is in Cinemas on 29th July 2022.