Jafar Panahi, the Iranian director, has made many films, challenging class, gender and ethnicity inequalities in Iran. He has been threatened with imprisonment and has been banned from travelling abroad and making films.
But he has continued his work unofficially. His latest film, Taxi Tehran, won the Golden Bear at last year’s Berlin Festival. He also acts in this film, playing an unofficial communal taxi driver in Tehran. These taxi drivers are one example of a large informal workforce.
A “driving movie” that challenges inequalities is not the original aspect of Panahi’s film. Abbas Kiarostami, a winner of the Palm d’Or at Cannes, pioneered “driving movies” in Iran. His film Ten (2002) consisted of ten journeys in a young woman’s car showing the life of women in a patriarchal society.
The originality of Panahi’s film is to imaginatively and satirically demonstrate how people in Iran unofficially get around economic restrictions and political restrictions such on human rights and women’s rights.
One episode is a debate between a man and a woman about the death penalty. The man passionately defends it. The woman, demonstrating the involvement of women in campaigns against the death penalty, tries to convince him that the death penalty will not resolve crimes.
After a long discussion the woman asks the man what his profession is. He says I will tell you before I get out of the taxi. And when he gets off, he says, “I am a mugger, but I don’t mug poor people. Those who mug poor people should be hanged.”
The story of another passenger, the seller of banned foreign films in the informal market, shows another unofficial job, and at the same time, the popularity of art, music and cinema.
He successfully competes with the official film sellers as his diverse buyers are a large segment of the society, especially students of art and cinema. He considers himself as working in the world of art and gives advice to Panahi that he would be better off joining his profession “rather than being a banned film maker”.
The story of an old man dying after a traffic accident challenges gender inequality. He is desperate to make a will and asks Panahi to be the witness to make sure that if he dies his wife will receive a proper inheritance. He pleads to Panahi, “She won’t receive anything if I die. My will is important so that she gets her fair share.”
Panahi’s 12 year old niece Hana enters the taxi. She is a school student who has learnt how to make officially distributable films. She knows exactly what to do to get round the rules and regulations to tell her story.