3 Faces Review
Since being prosecuted and convicted of creating propaganda against the Iranian government in 2010, which led to a six-year jail sentence and a 20-year ban from directing films, Jafar Panahi has somehow managed to become an even better filmmaker. It seems nothing - not even house arrest - can keep the acclaimed Iranian director from telling his stories. From smuggling his work out of the country in a cake (This Is Not a Film), to winning the Golden Bear at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival (Taxi), Panahi’s creativity on limited resources has seen his meta-narratives soar to new heights.
3 Faces is his fourth release since receiving a ban that means he cannot 'officially' put a film into production until 2030. In spite of these restrictions, it still featured in competition at Cannes last year, and sets a slight change of pace that feels more akin to the late Abbas Kiarostami, without compromising his willingness to examine the social structure in his home country.
Where Panahi was confined to his home in This Is Not a Film, or the seat of a car in Taxi, 3 Faces plays like a road movie that returns to the small mountainous village his family originated from. While the scope of the production is slightly more expansive, he maintains the same level of precaution, with all of the ‘characters’ playing themselves. Early on in the film he is heard telling his mother on the phone: “I’m not making a film,” just in case anyone high up in authority has different ideas.
As long as Panahi isn’t jabbing the government too forcefully they will probably continue to turn a blind eye; the set-up surely not fooling anyone back in Tehran. It opens with an iPhone video recorded by a budding young actress (Marziyeh Rezaei as herself) who, due to family pressure, can no longer handle the restrictions of small village life and appears to hang herself at the end.
We cut back to a car journey where experienced Iranian actress Behnaz Jafari is watching the video beside Panahi. She is naturally alarmed but also suspicious Panahi could be up to his old tricks again. They head off to the north-eastern region of Iran into the Turkish speaking mountain communities, in an attempt to find out more about the girl, the real meaning of the video, and her fate.
The meagre plot largely exists as paper thin cover for Panahi to question Iran society’s treatment of women. It’s a modest but thought provoking continuation of his attempts to provide a female perspective on life in Iran. The film’s title makes reference to three generations of actresses, two of which we meet in Jafari and the younger Marziyeh. The third, former star Scheherazade, is never seen or heard (she is a famous Middle Eastern fictional character). We are told she has been forced to live in exile on the outskirts of the village to keep away from locals who fear her free thinking will corrupt the minds of their daughters.
Slowly venturing around this provincial setting in search of the young Marziyeh, Jafari and Panahi come into contact with a series of male villagers and the patriarchal beliefs that rule the region. Jafari is even given a small bundle containing the circumcised skin of a villager’s son to pass onto an exiled veteran actor in the belief it will empower him. During their search for Marziteh they learn that despite being accepted into a highly respected acting school, she is being forced into an arranged marriage.
Simple but effective storytelling lies at the heart of the best of Iranian cinema and 3 Faces is a return to basics for Panahi. None of his usual wit or intelligence is missing, with the focus on outdated male attitudes and the restrictions they place on women in Iran proving to be as incisive as ever.
3 Faces opens in select UK cinemas on March 29th.