تاکسی‎‎ [2015)

[JAFAR PANAHI’S TAXI (2015)]

This must be “Axis of Evil” week here at paulydeathwish.com 🙂

As I have stated recently to a friend.

George W. Bush was the worst President the United States has ever seen.

And Barack Obama was probably the second-worst.

So what does that make me?

Democrat?

Republican?

Libertarian?

Let’s get to that question (if you even care to know) by a circuitous route, shall we?

First, we must again praise the people of Iran.

It was long ago that I saw my first Iranian film.

Taste of Cherry.

طعم گيلاس…‎‎

[Ta’m-e gīlās…]

It was such a profound experience.

There I was.

In a movie theater in Austin.

And I couldn’t have given a shit about cinema.

But I was there.

For some reason.

God only knows why.

And I saw a movie which in many ways changed my life.

[but it took many years to sink in]

Even so, I came to regard the name of its director (Abbas Kiarostami) with a sort of awe.

Yet, I doubted.

[as we all well should]

And so I said to the cinema gods, “Let Kiarostami perform his miracle again…if he be so brilliant!”

And he did.

I was supposed to be watching Life, and Nothing More…

But I made a mistake.

Because my French is so bad.

[you know, Kiarostami died in Paris last year (may God rest his soul)]

I needed 1991, but I chose 1990.

And it was another miracle.

Close-Up.

I don’t know.

Is it…

کلوزآپ ?

Or…

نمای نزدیک ?

[“Klūzāp”?  Or “nemā-ye nazdīk”?]

Because the unfailing Google Translate (now the second-most popular “tr” search after “Trump” [as “translate”]) tells me that both terms mean “close-up”.

But who can translate Trump?

[ahhh…]

Perhaps only an Iranian?

Well, we would be in good hands if director Jafar Panahi was that man.

Why?

Because Mr. Panahi has made a film which is of the same rarefied air as the two Kiarostami films which I have referenced.

The work is called Jafar Panahi’s Taxi, and it is currently available on Netflix in the U.S.

No, it’s not a really trite game show.

No, it’s not some premise for an uncreative pornographer.

Jafar Panahi’s Taxi ( تاکسی) pushes the limits of barebones filmmaking in much the same way that the Palestinian masterpiece 5 Broken Cameras did.

[yes, I know the latter film was an Israeli coproduction…with an Israeli co-director…‎‎but the film was very much Palestinian in its inmost heart]

What our director Mr. Panahi adds to the method (budget cinematography) is an uncertainty of reality.

Frankly, I have never seen a film quite like Jafar Panahi’s Taxi.

Is it a documentary?  Is it staged?

One thing’s for sure.

If it’s staged, the injured man and his wailing wife deserve Oscars “toot sweet”!

Truly, it is panic-inducing…

Which is not true of this film in general.

No, dear eggshell friends (if you’re out there)…don’t be afraid.

Jafar Panahi’s Taxi will only take you on a “wondrous boat ride” (so to speak) for a brief, more-or-less manageable period of time.

The rest of the film is fascinating…engrossing…painfully and gloriously perplexing.

Yes, Mr. Panahi borrows Kiarostami’s favorite device:  filming from a moving vehicle.

But so what?!?

Panahi was an assistant director to Kiarostami.

And Abbas certainly wasn’t the first to film out of a car window.

But let’s examine for a moment…

Yes, the special part of this method is that the camera is turned INWARDS.

And so we feel we are seeing Homayoun Ershadi vacillate between life and death…all over again.

Or we feel we are seeing the calm, gracious mannerisms of Mohsen Makhmalbaf transposed from motorcycle to taxicab.

But what we are seeing most of all is a director stepping in front of the camera.

Like Truffaut.

And Chaplin before him.

Godard has done it to excellent effect as well.

And Jafar Panahi is like an empty reed of meditation as he navigates an unending stream of chaos which enters his faux-taxi.

But the most poignant moments are when Hana Saeidi reminds us of the childish joy of being an auto passenger…and when the lawyer Ms. Nasrin Sotoudeh addresses us…we, the watchers of cinema.

Who will watch those watching the watchers?

It’s like Juvenal in a hall of mirrors.

But Ms. Sotoudeh breaks the fourth wall and takes us to a very special place.

Prison.

And so, again, frankly:  we don’t know how Jafar Panahi’s Taxi was ever made.

Isn’t Iran one of the most intolerant countries on Earth?

Just what is going on here??

All of this Shostakovich-ean rebellion is really breathtaking when under the microscope of close viewing.

But Jafar Panahi remains stone-faced.

Like Buster Keaton.

Yet, this is largely no comedy.

This is a big “fuck you” to the government of Iran.

And yet, it is the most subtle “fuck you” ever committed to film.

Only a genius can do such things.

DSCH

etc.

Yes, dear friends.  Mr. Panahi has been banned from making films.

And yet he made one.

And then another.

And then this one.

So we salute you, Mr. Panahi.

We appreciate such in America.

To illustrate:

<–fuck you, fuck you–>, and most of all…fuck you ^

That is freedom.

It is ugly.

Messy.

But it works.

And so as a Donald Trump supporter (yes, me), I say, “bring it on, you whiny, sub-literate protesters!”

Maybe they’re right.

But it’s their right.

To protest.

And so we mix and knead.

And we need the yeast of dissent to ever grow again.

Let’s bake some goddamned bread, people!

-PD

Corner Store [2010)

I previously reviewed the Palestinian masterpiece خمس كاميرات محطمة‎‎ (Five Broken Cameras).

And we shall return to Palestine with another moving documentary.

Another masterpiece.

For this one we have a very perceptive American director to thank:  Katherine Bruens.

But all of it would be for naught if not for a shining example of humanity:  corner store owner Yousef Elhaj.

The occupation of Palestine can elicit such feelings of anger and disgust (as well it should).

But every once in a while a real kind spirit comes along.

And such kind spirits shame the despicable Israeli settlers and their vulture military even more so than the most vitriolic polemic.

Yousef Elhaj is such a person.

Sweet.  Hardworking.  Kind.  Quiet.  Patient.  Hardworking.

And (big surprise) a Christian.

Here we see a different perspective from 5 Broken Cameras.

I suppose we are used to assuming that all Palestinians are Muslims (and a vast majority are), but it is interesting to see things from a different perspective.

Elhaj’s life in Bethlehem (occupied West Bank) was just as crappy as that of any Muslim living there or in any other part of the criminally unrecognized Palestine.

Another important point…  Being Christian does not make Elhaj any less Arab.

Most importantly…  Peace in the Middle East is possible because of people like Yousef Elhaj.

He is really a jaw-dropping personage.

So much sacrifice for his family.

7:30 a.m.-midnight.

Seven days a week.

A little corner store on Church St. in San Francisco.

And to see life in Bethlehem.

To see the hell of walls and settlements which the Israelis have erected.

The settlements encroach.  The settlements surround.

Bethlehem is completely encircled by concrete structures which are too artless for even Frank Gehry to barf on.

That’s what settlements mean.

Don’t let the euphemism fool you.

“Settlements” are concrete apartment blocks built on stolen land.

That would be bad enough were it not for the ubiquitous (and racist) walls which stockade Palestine.

And yet we don’t see anger from Mr. Elhaj.

He isn’t shown at a protest.

He just wants his family to be alright.

And his main emotion upon seeing the decline of his home town of Bethlehem is sadness.

The Israeli gun towers.  Turrets to protect the settlers.  And to hell with everyone else.

The sadness as a business man is remarkable.

What made him leave in the first place.

Things weren’t just bad.  They were awful.

And so he has been away from his family for ten years.

He could have brought them to the U.S., but our immigration laws are not written to think of people as people.

Rather, our laws reduce people to statistics.

Quotas.

I can only figure that Mr. Elhaj (as bad as things were for him) actually had it better than Muslim Palestinians hoping to start a new life in America.  [Which is to say, Muslims in general are not in an enviable position at this time regarding their leverage in situations of immigration review.]

So let’s think about it…

Bernie Sanders might be a generally disposable candidate, but he’s gotten a couple things right.

When he talks about America’s strength being its diversity?  He’s absolutely right.

It’s trite.  It’s Democrat politics 101…but it is correct.

And Mr. Trump (whom I like)…  Wanna see what walls do?  Go check out Palestine.  Actually get in the open-air jail.  Don’t view it from a safe distance courtesy of the occupiers.

The walls are ugly.

Sad.

Pathetic.

Fearful.

Weak.

Mr. Elhaj has so much to teach us in this documentary.

You can succeed in America.

The opportunity is there.

It may not be pretty.

But when you’re coming from the hell of Bethlehem, it’s a walk in the park.

You do it all for your family.

Seven days a week.

For ten years.

 

-PD

Ici et ailleurs [1976)

God, the horror of struggle

in Palestine Godard filmed

the sadness of conditions

with such beauty of technique

ingenuity of filmic form

And then came the editing.  Back to France.

It was his film and her film.  Anne-Marie Miéville.

Someone with whom he could discuss film.

No more actresses.  A life partner.

And an agitator.  Critique yourself.

Of course Marx offered useful tools.  But there is more than Marx.

And the universe expanded.  You must turn to the images.

Why is the actress not acting?  And why is that beautiful?

Above and beyond (aside from) the fact that she is beautiful.

Just one.  Anne-Marie points it out.  The way things are done.

Early computer console script glowing green and blinking.  Always blinking.

Someone has captured the wrong image.  In the diffusion the stronger image has been diffused.

It was Hitler.  Israel.  Golda Meir in some sort of act of allegiance.

And Godard’s obsession with finding the double s in nature.  kiSSinger, for instance.

The anger of the filmmaker.  Who bombed the editing studio?  Certainly not Arabs.

Certainly not.  Find the true history.  Only one filmmaker was truly brave and crazy.  Godard.

Must be both to be this brave.

The wrong frame again.  “It’s silly to die for an image.”  But not silly to accept death for the survival of your community.

Of course.  Of course.  Bravery.  Simple.

A sad, pathetic Palestinian village.  And how did they come to be pinned in thusly?

Like livestock.

But the true beauty is cautious.  Scared.  Yes.  Tentatively walking the perimeter.

An image which will live a thousand years in the hearts of every serious soul who sees it.

Nameless.

Nothing shocks as much as the bloody face in Amman.  More than the Holocaust.  That the root cause could continue.

A transference of power abuse.  The short step to fascism.  Leaving out a few crucial details.  Voila.

The man in Amman.  Dead.  Text flashing backwards.  Mirrored.  On top of front-facing font.  Palimpsest.

Expired.

Perhaps there was a bad translation somewhere.  Muselmann in the camps.  Not guardspeak.

We don’t know.  I don’t.

Perhaps.

You say for money, to take an unpopular stand.  A pittance.  Film stock.  Plane tickets.

But they did finally recognize that they were borrowing a revolution.  Because making one was too costly.

At home.  France.  Texas.  Ici.  And the endless possibilities of ailleurs.  Elsewhere.  And here.  Here.

They only meant to send a statement.  Probably.  And the film sat for five years.  1970-1975.

But some images are too beautiful.  Too powerful.  Too important.  Indelible.

Godard never forgot.  Anything.  The camps.  Palestine.  Ghettos.  Prisons.  1789.

Only art speaks.

Study and respect.  Change your world.

I have ordered the images from room service.  And Google has only given me a popularity contest.

Click and vote.  Perhaps.

For film to destroy your soul so beautifully and so hard.

Ah, now I can’t even talk like everyone else.

A hard-earned style which jettisoned pretense long ago.

Almost fashionably dead.  To the doubters.

Mais, sanguine!

-PD