Tonally uneven and tries too hard to be captivating, Panah Panahi’s tragicomic debut feature is a mixed bag of a road movie, despite the picturesque cinematography and some genuine moments of human empathy.
Cast: Pantea Panahiha, Hasan Majuni, Rayan Sarlak, Amin Simiar
Plot: Follows a chaotic, tender family that is on a road trip across a rugged landscape and fussing over the sick dog and getting on each others’ nerves. Only the mysterious older brother is quiet.
Awards: Nom. for Camera d’Or (Cannes)
International Sales: Celluloid Dreams
Subject Matter: Moderate – Family; Human Bonding
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
Viewed: Oldham Theatre – Asian Film Archive
I’m sailing against the tide with this one. The first feature by Panah Panahi (son of Jafar Panahi), Hit the Road, is a mixed bag of a road movie. Most critics seem to truly love it though.
Screen Daily calls it “thrillingly inventive, satisfyingly textured…”, while Film Threat says it is a “gut-punch of a film”. I find it hard to resonate with these words.
There are certain parts of the film where the characters break out into song—these extraneous scenes are the weakest for me, taking me out of the narrative and trying too hard to be captivating.
A story of a family in a car travelling towards some border where a member must say his goodbyes, Hit the Road is tonally uneven, even though its attempt in delivering a rather unorthodox comedy-drama about human relationships is at best a moderate success.
There are genuine moments of human empathy, particularly one extended long take of the father having one-to-one time with his quiet eldest son in the serene outdoors.
“One day, we’ll laugh at all this.”
The mother and a boisterous younger kid make up the quartet, though some might argue that a sickly dog that tags along for the ride is the fifth member.
Hit the Road is sublimely beautiful when Panahi generously gives us extreme wide shots of the landscape, often with something moving within it, be it a car winding along a dirt road in the far distance or the vague outlines of characters set against the terrain.
This visual poetry is, however, sometimes at odds with the dialogue-heavy conversations that reveal the love-hate dynamics within the family in question.
Likewise, I appreciate what Panahi has set out to accomplish, yet also annoyed at some of his creative decisions. Ultimately, it is a tolerable film for me from a new voice of Iranian cinema.