جاده خاکی, Jadde Khaki
dir: Panah Panahi
There’s been all this blather about nepo babies lately, as in, the children of famous people supposedly getting a leg up due to nepotism, and I wanted to issue something of a corrective – sometimes being the son of one of Iran’s most famous directors isn’t really the boon that it might sound like.
Sure, Jafar Panahi is one of Iran’s most celebrated directors (outside of Iran), but he’s also a director most often punished by the regime for his movies. He’s been jailed, banned from making movies, banned from leaving the country, all that good stuff. So being his son isn’t really going to open a lot of doors for you.
Panah Panahi probably doesn’t have anything to prove to anyone, but he’s made a film even his father would envy.
Hit the Road is mostly a flick about a family travelling on the road. They’re travelling fairly far, for reasons that are unclear at first. The dad (Hasaan Madjooni) has a broken leg, and can’t drive. The mum (Pantia Panahiha) is sleepy. They have a young son who might be part demon (Rayan Sarlak), and a nervous older son (Armin Simiar), who’s doing the driving, in this borrowed car.
Wherever they’re going, they don’t seem to be in a rush to get there, and they’re only travelling during the day. They’re a family in that they have a shit-stirring energy with each other, and clearly a lot of family favourite songs and in-jokes.
They’re not meant to be using or even possessing mobile phones, which is a bit weird. It’s not weird to see this in other films, where people are paranoid about being tracked or spied on. But this is an Iranian flick. Let’s not forget that Iran has a brutal totalitarian regime in place since the Revolution in the late 70s, which replaced the totalitarian regime under the Shah. The morality police kill women for not wearing a headscarf in public. The Revolutionary Guards torture and kill those who complain about living in a country where women are killed for not wearing a fucking headscarf.
If this family is scared of someone tracking them, isn’t it the regime’s goons they’re afraid of?
What I’m saying is, how did this film get made without everyone involved not being hung?
It’s not like this regime shies away from executing women and children. All in the name of maintaining their tenuous grip on power. The more brutal the regime, the more fragile its grip.
So maybe I answered my own questions. They’re scared of the government’s goons, which is also the reason for the trip, because the older son is sneaking out of the country and into Turkey, but not through legal means.
This sounds serious, doesn’t it, but this flick is really such a joy to behold. It’s entirely about this family, and its dynamics, and the sacrifices parents make for their kids, and how a mother could simultaneously want to protect her son by smuggling him out of the country, but also not want him to go.
To simultaneously urge him to cut down on his smoking when he gets where he’s going, but also giving him puffs of her cigarette the whole while.
A mother’s heart is a curious thing.
And the whole while there’s the issue of the dog, Jessy, who is unwell, and no-one has the heart to do anything about it. Not properly, and not in a meaningful way.
They’re in a borrowed car, they’ve pretty much sacrificed the deed to their house in order to fund this escape (for their son, only). But they have each other, at least for now.
This is set fairly contemporarily, I think, and the car is a fairly recent 4WD. When the mum gets anxious about a car she thinks is following them, it turns out to just be a helpful / nosy chap who’s trying to tell them that some part of the car is leaking.
No big deal. This flick sounds serious, and it really isn’t. The mood of it all is way funnier than anything I’ve written thus far would imply.
After the family stopped, and watch a group of road cyclists pass them, the young boy cheers to a man on his bike, singing some patriotic song about how athletes are glorious heroes and a credit to the nation of Iran, they accidentally knock him over.
The driver stops to help him out, and they bring him into the van, driving him down the road, as he talks about his love of cycling. He and the father argue about whether Lance Armstrong was a hero or a fraud, or a heroic fraud; when the father says something like “wasn’t Armstrong on steroids”, the cyclist says the Iranian equivalent of “fake news”.
That gave me a laugh. But I had a bigger laugh when I noticed something, after the father admonishes the young chap, telling him how important it is to be honest, to be true, to win honestly. Everyone agrees, everyone supports this idea.
Where are they taking the chap? To a clinic, to his house? Oh, he says, once he’s noticed that they’re far ahead of the pack, and they didn’t see him in the car because he leaned down pretending to look for something he dropped, anywhere here will do, even though there’s nothing around.
And off he cycles as they drive off, content with having helped a guy out.
That made me laugh, and even though there’s no way I’d call this a comedy, this film did delight me with its sly humour.
The camerawork inside the car makes it look incredibly roomy and incredibly cramped all at the same time. Because she feels like her son is sulking, Mum puts a classic on the stereo and sings along with it, urging him to be less surly. This man/boy, though, he’s caught between wanting to regress back into childhood and relinquish responsibility, with wanting to be seen as a man irritated by his parents antics AND their sacrifices for him.
The youngest boy – ye gods, he’s a force of fucking nature. His energy feels somehow in synch with these people, but he feels like the human version of Jack-Jack from The Incredibles movies: something that could set everything on fire or take bites out of metal at the drop of a hat.
The dad is a real piece of work. I feel like he’s a good man, as he hobbles about, gives shitty advice to people, makes things up, whines a bit, curses a bit. In a glorious bit he purports to give his son advice about um, friendship and such, and it’s such a clumsily mangled metaphor, with apples and such standing in for generosity. And in his embarrassment he lashes out telling his son not to cry in front of his mum, because it breaks her heart.
“In front of me? You may cry” he says, after a delay, as if he’s doing him a grand favour.
“In front of you? Never.”
It staged in such a way, with something that happens in the background that I cannot believe could be real: a susurration of swallows does its thing twice well behind them, but everything tells me it couldn’t have just been good timing.
In that spirit, when they seem to have gotten to their destination, somewhere in the far north west of the country, there’s a scene of a motorbike rider coming down the mountain through some fog that rolls in, rolls up, then rolls out again in a way that had me doubting what I was seeing. How could that have been staged?
The composition of scenes…the scenery… the way it’s shot is exquisite but never showy. On a glade in the mountains where families have gathered, two trees lean, a long cloud looms over all, a boy and dog are tied to a tree, so much is happening so far away but we have no doubt what’s happening.
It really is a superbly put together film, with subtle and magnificent performances, especially the mum, she’s amazing. Their love of the “old” songs (meaning songs from before the revolution, that the powers that be frown upon) that permeate the movie add so much, and it’s not like I’ve ever heard these songs before, but they add so much.
It’s not heavy going at all, if that’s what some of my descriptions seem to imply. There’s sadness there but mostly it powerfully asserts the bonds of family, the bind of family love.
And I haven’t even mentioned the glorious scene out of nowhere, somewhat inspired by an earlier conversation between mother and son about his favourite movie (2001: A Space Odyssey), paired with a goofy conversation between father and youngest son about how cool Batman is and how expensive his car would be, and how he would cry if he ever got a scratch on it, all the while stars appear around the dad, with his son lying on top of him in his sleeping bag, as they become one with the night sky. Don’t we all wish we could fly through the night sky, with our beloved families, at least one more time?
Glorious flick. Glorious performances. I loved the hell out of it. Films like this are a credit to the nepo babies that created them.
9 times when I hit the road I don’t get moving again afterwards out of 10
“Where are we?”
- “We are dead!” - Hit The Road