Cast: Amin Simiar, Hassan Madjooni, Pantea Panahiha, Rayan Sarlak
Official Selection, 2021 Cannes Directors’ Fortnight
“Where are we?” The mother asks at the beginning of Panah Panahi’s HIT THE ROAD, from the front seat of the car. “We’re dead,” says her kid, from the backseat. He (in a brilliantly unhinged performance by Rayan Sarlak) talks a mile a minute for the rest of the film. Dad has a broken leg. The older son is angry, and Mom is constantly infantilizing him. The dog has a terminal illness. For reasons that will unfold, they’re on the run, driving into Iran’s borderlands. In the grand tradition of a road film, Iran—its political context, bicyclists, and foggy hillsides—is a character, too.
The astounding feat of HIT THE ROAD is that Panahi has made the most constrained of film sets (the inside of a car) a literal vehicle of artistic possibility. The older son has requested that his parents not be sad, because of their unspeakable circumstances. They can’t be sad anyway, because of the little boy. And so, the result is coded conversations, laughter, and performance, calibrated to whatever the kid is talking about: wars in distant galaxies, Batman’s cloud of tear gas. Jokes, flights of fancy (including an extended meditation on the zen of 2001: A Space Odyssey and a photo album of “artistic pee”), breathtaking cinematography, and multiple scenes lip syncing or simply listening to pre-Revolution pop songs float like a sublime ribbon through an atmosphere heavy with grief and fear, which only makes each moment more bittersweet, and only makes the songs of love and loss they jam to more beautiful, more pregnant with the things that they cannot say to one another, or to themselves.