Being the son of the great Iranian dissident filmmaker Jafar Panahi and the protege of the late master director Abbas Kiarostami can’t help but cast a shadow, but if this digressive and slyly weighty debut is any indication, Panah Panahi will have no trouble making his own voice heard.
A family of four drives through a forlorn countryside en route to connect with smugglers who will ferry their eldest son—in trouble for nameless reasons—out of the country. The traditional familial hierarchy is upended by the father’s immobility due to a full-leg cast. A philosophical bearded type, he spends much of the trip entertaining his younger son, when not staring aimlessly off into the distance. The desperately raging heart of the movie, the little boy, curious about everyone and everything, drives his family crazy while also distracting them from the heavy journey they’re on. The pain of the imminent separation is communicated wordlessly on the mother’s face.
I don’t know how Panahi manages to make this road trip neither heavy-handed nor derivative, but he’s found a new wrinkle to add to perhaps the oldest trope in film (and literature). By focusing on the mundane task of managing a little boy’s time and following the instructions of the smugglers hired to get their other son to safety, Panahi manages to keep the action moving without sliding into existential hand-wringing. Despite the very real darkness threatening to engulf this family, they know to keep moving ahead, no matter how unsettled the future looks through the windshield of their little car. I don’t know if they’ll be OK, but I’m glad to’ve been along for the ride. 93 min.