Have you seen Taxi Tehran? A fantastic film, as simple as it is ingenious: a taxi driver transports passengers through Tehran – a teacher, a pickpocket, a black marketeer, a lawyer, his niece – and with each of them a conversation about their situation develops, resulting in a mosaic of the situation of the people created in the capital.
This is entertaining and at the same time profound, private and yet highly political and without any bitterness, which nobody could have blamed on director Jafar Panahi. Because when he secretly shot the film, he was already under the threat of a six-year prison sentence for “propaganda against the system”, the start of which was only suspended.
Now they got him. More precisely: kept there when he protested to the public prosecutor’s office against the arrest of the directors Mohammed Rassulof and Mostafa Al-Ahmad.
Together with 70 colleagues from the film industry, they signed an online resolution calling for an end to police violence. The cause was violently suppressed riots after a shopping arcade collapsed in the southwestern city of Abadan, killing more than 40 people.
One should not think of the Iranian system as a monolithic dictatorship. The mere fact that Iranian directors, who have been banned from their profession for ten years, are able to make films under the official radar, smuggle them out of the country and win prizes at major festivals, testifies to the ongoing culture war between hardliners and more moderates.
Global protests over previous arrests of Panahi and Rassulof are believed to have contributed to the 10-year suspension of their arrest warrants.
The Berlinale’s gesture of inviting Panahi to the jury and putting an empty chair in all of her performances because the director wasn’t allowed to leave his country protected him to a certain extent.
She has made it clear to the authorities in Tehran that they are not dealing with a petty dissident, but with a world-renowned artist, on a par with Wim Wenders or Martin Scorsese, for example.
This is an insight that the West tends to lack. Many are signing online petitions for Panahi’s release, because that’s what they do every time the hideous regime jails someone.
It’s a certain automatism. You haven’t seen Taxi Tehran, haven’t seen Offside, haven’t seen Three Faces. You should look at them. It would be a sign of respect for the directors and Iranian film culture, which does not need to hide from that of any other classic film country.