3 Faces

3 FACES. Starring: Behnaz Jafari, Jafar Panahi, and Marziyeh Rezaei. Also, Maedeh Erteghaei. Directed by Jafar Panahi. Rated M (Mature themes). 97 min.

This subtitled, Iranian film shows a popular Iranian movie actress searching for a young girl in Iran after the girl tries to send her a video, frantically seeking help. In the film, - Actress (Behnaz Jafari), and her Director (Jafar Panahi) - play themselves. Jafar Panahi directs and acts in the movie, in which Behnaz Jafari also acts.

Panahi was banned from making films in Iran for 20 years for allegedly making propaganda films against his country’s regime. This is his fourth film made under that ban. Panahi and his co-writer, Nader Saeivar, won the award for Best Screenplay for the film at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival.

The title of the film presumably refers to actresses at different stages of their career. One is probably a face, prior to the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The second is of Behnaz Jafari. The third is of a young provincial girl, Marziyeh Rezaei, who wants to attend drama courses in Iran and is told by her parents she can’t.

Rezaei sends the video - a selfie made on her smart phone - because her family has said “no” to her taking up study at Tehran’s prestigious drama conservatory. On video, she talks about her broken dreams of becoming an actress and how her disapproving family want to marry her off instead. In the video, she carries a rope and looks to be about to hang herself. The film conveys  what might well be the girl’s final “suicide” message. A worried Jafari, abandons her film-shoot to try to help the young  girl, who looks to be about to end her life. Jafari walks out of Panahi’s picture, and asks him to help her search for Rezaei, and they drive together to Northwest Iran to find the troubled girl.

A shaken Jafari keeps watching the video as Panahi drives, and she gives a running commentary on it, and expresses guilt about what has happened. Their journey takes them into mountain villages which are populated by (mostly) friendly people, who live their lives by ancient customs, rules, and traditions. A very old woman, for example, decides to test her newly dug grave and lies in it to check it out for comfort; a group of villagers can’t decide whether Behnaz and Jafar are there to help them, or to entertain them; and the villagers show how their lives are dominated by religious beliefs, rules, and superstition. The people in the villages want nothing that could be seen to dishonour them in any way.

The photography in the film is excellent. Compelling scenery is always at the end of narrow roads, and colours are starkly vivid and distinctive. This is a rich and multi-layered film that is full of telling imagery of rural peoples living difficult lives in Iran. It is a movie made about people who live under oppressive conditions, and who survive by supporting each other warmly and enthusiastically. This film, made 8 years into the Director’s legal ban, is intellectually challenging and inquires all the time about the meaning of what is happening in Iran through its commentary. At the same time, it focuses on the events that are dramatically unfolding, telling the viewers  whether Rezaei has suicided, or not.

The film has the appearance of a road movie, but is an intriguing political allegory. It offers a portrait of a country facing significant oppression, and it highlights female repression and rebellion. The pace of the movie is meditative, thoughtful, and true to the culture and existing traditions of Iran.

This quality art-house movie addresses life in Iran in a totally authentic way. It stirs ideas of change through unusual direction, telling imagery, extraordinarily natural acting, and challenging scripting. It purposefully focuses on female repression, and shows special respect for women in the acting profession. Throughout, it implicitly argues for political and cultural change in a country that is fascinating.

Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Madman Entertainment

Released May 2nd., 2019