A family goes on a trip with a difference of Take the road, a promising first feature film by Panah Panahi, presented in the Directors’ Fortnight section of the Cannes Film Festival. The son of Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi delivers a lean but touching drama with a winning humorous streak.
When we meet the unnamed mother (Pantea Panahiha) and father (Hassan Madjooni), they are traveling through a rugged landscape with their two sons. Their elder (Amin Simiar), an adult, seems concerned. Their youngest is played by Rayan Sarlak, who was six at the time of filming and is a magnetic artist – Take the roadthe greatest comic weapon of. A lively, hyperactive borderline child with an early manner with words, he indulges in witty banter with his parents, especially his father, who uses humor to distract him and protect him from the mysterious affairs of adults.
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It becomes clear to the public that the trip has a serious, if not dangerous, purpose involving the older brother. This is something visibly concerned with the mother, who often looks thoughtful and gently berates her son about his smoking habit, perhaps channeling his anxiety into more controllable issues than the one they are facing.
As you approach a border, unspoken tension mounts, but it is often punctuated by observational humor and a winning heart. It is the portrait of a loving family who care deeply about each other. Panahi captures every little detail that shows it, from mother’s protection to father’s distraction tactics. Rather unusual for a realistic drama, both parents engage in conversations about genre films with their sons. The mother is curious to know which movie is the favorite of her eldest child – it is 2001: A Space Odyssey, which, he said, calms it down. His brother opts for the opposite effect: stimulating superhero movies.
When a man walks up to the car with his head covered in a bag, he quickly refers to the scarecrow of The black Knight cinema. Her father runs with it, and makes soothing promises related to his love of Batman. Later, the couple share a beautiful scene that recalls the vibe of 2001; the father lying on the ground looking at the stars in what looks like a spacesuit. References to pop music also punctuate the film, as the family sings and dances to Iranian music. These aren’t just there to pick up the pace: the director says they were sung by artists who had to flee abroad after the revolution.
Another star of the film is a small dog called Jessy, who also injured his leg. Unlike his owner, it’s not a condition he can live with for long, but Dad has granted him a stay of execution so his young son can spend time with his pet on the road. It gives the boy-dog scenes a heartbreaking quality, and it’s easy to draw parallels with another impending loss the family is facing. Take the road is a small but beautiful film, and a great calling card for Panahi Jr.