Hit the road
There are films and then there are films that just prompt you to write about them. With that I finished watching the 2021 Iranian film Hit The Road which had premiered in the Director’s Fortnight at The Cannes Film Festival of the year 2021. Directed by Panah Panahi, the son of legendary filmmaker Jaffer Panahi who is now barred from making films, I was genuinely keen on what this film had to offer. Just to give you a little background on the state of affairs of Iran(strictly on the basis of what I have read), making films as an artform is not easy simply because a certain set of films cannot be made there.
There are innumerous restrictions on women and families which cannot be addressed in films(which is why Holy Spider was banned). So living with these political undertones would never be easy, a reason also why Jaffer Panahi who often did showcase these undertones in his films, was banned and arrested(for showing support to the ongoing protests). That is unfortunately the law of the land which is home to some of the brilliant filmmakers of the world. So I was curious on what the film Hit The Road had to offer, does it manage to impress, stick around!
Story & Screenplay(Spoilers, Ending Explained)
Hit The Road follows the story of a family taking a road trip where one member of the family is surprisingly silent. The story here might seem like a road trip but it has a lot to say about the current situation of the country where the drama is set in. The screenplay at just a shade above 90 minutes does pack in a lot of things which would perplex you and make you shed a tear towards the end while you empathize with the characters. I will not be able to pen a word with uttering spoilers, so this section does contain spoilers. Viewers discretion advised!
The drama opens on a rather mysterious note which in hindsight was a smart way of opening the film. You are introduced to the family of 4(and a pet dog, keeping whom is also a crime in Iran) who are undergoing a road trip where suddenly the mother instructs her youngest son to hand over the mobile to her. Soon, the unthinkable takes place as she buries the mobile but not before marking a spot to collect it on their way back. On the other hand, the youngest son is at his chirpiest best, questioning every action and oblivious of the situation that the family finds themselves in(so are the audience at this point). The eldest son is surprisingly quiet and doesn’t utter a word while the father, whose leg is in a plaster, distracts his youngest son. This single scene does evoke a series of questions where nothing is what it seems like. Having no background about the family does add to the mystery.
The beautiful landscapes of Iran are explored with a tinge of melancholy as the family does make their way ahead. There is an inherent sadness in the atmosphere which is unlike a roadtrip which the families undertake. While nothing is uttered in many words, besides a stray incident early on featuring a cyclist who is helped by the family as he meets with an accident with their car. A conversation revolving around Lance Armstrong reveals a bit about the ideologies of the father who doesn’t prefer to take anything on face value. This, while the family is always weary of being followed.
Right from the Islamic Revolution of 1979, there have been many families who have followed a similar plight of leaving the country for better pastures. The law of the land is such that every youth had to undergo compulsory military training, something that the families are not in favour off, leading them to take this drastic step. There are instances of families separating due to the modern day autocratic setup which would shatter anyone reading this. And so this was a backdrop of the drama that has been unfolding.
Through a series of conversations we are told on how the father has had to sell off his property to allow his elder son, a smooth exit. This while there is an expression of sadness that is ever engulfing on the face of the eldest son. On being asked his favourite film, his reply was 2001 : A Space Odyssey directed by Stanley Kubrick that had the protagonist entering a blackhole while conversing with himself for hours thereby finding peace with himself! A beautiful metaphor for the sufferings he and his family may have gone through amidst the chaos of the land. The idea of separating with his family and the thought of never seeing them again had clearly broken him from inside. Elsewhere, the elderly couple sing a song together(singing by women in public is a sin in Iran), signifying hope in what was a momentary sense of freedom and liberty.
Soon, the picture is clearer as the family makes its way to the Turkish border to see off their son. With moments away from the departure, the father and son sitting probably for the last time together beside a beautiful creek(not before the latter is in a hurry signifying goodbyes are hard for him), exchange their unsaid words. Being the responsible son, he asks his father to visit the dentist while knowing fully well that his father has had to sell off his property. In the immediate scene post that, in an emotionally moving long shot, we see the character of the mother ensuring that her son has not forgotten anything behind and repeatedly telling him about the food which she had packed for him(probably the last time atleast for a while) and to eat on time. Typical of mothers and their unconditional love for their children. The final departure was enough to make a grown up man like me sob for hours. A reference to the youngest son asking his father, ‘Are we cockroaches?’ To which he replies ‘We Are Now’, made perfect sense here(cockroaches are killed off or thrown out of the homes too by the people in charge much to the disdain of the father here).
The concluding scene did involve the father letting out his condition through stories to his youngest son, as the camera pans out depicting them entering and disappearing in a blackhole, a reference to 2001 – A Space Odyssey and its concluding scene. On their way back, a song of hope is cut short by the death of their pet dog who was sick. And this is when the youngest son breaks the fourth wall while singing a song that would pierce your heart like nothing else! This screenplay was perhaps the most understated and subtle part of a political drama in an engrossing yet warm tragedy that I have ever watched!
Dialogues, Music & Direction
The dialogues are conversational with a sharp sense of social commentary with a political undertone that makes for an impact like no other. But in its heart, this is also a human tale that has the much needed warmth depicted through some lovely lines. The BGM is sparingly used almost allowing the scenic landscapes to engulf you in sorrow. The cinematography with some lovely wide angle shots beautifully depict the chaos and calmness in a single frame. Director Panah Panahi does an inctedible job in giving a political statement in the most gentle and nuanced manner. He does play that out in the second layer while the top layer is reserved for the human emotions which are just so relatable. His direction is absolutely splendid.
The performances here by the cast are phenomenal. None of the characters are named here in the film that makes their identities much more real. For instance, any one of the viewers could have been in their place and the story wouldn’t change one bit. Amir Simiar as the eldest son says so much through his expressions rather than words. He is filled with sorrow in an incredible act that would touch you like no other. Rayan Sarlak as the youngest son is diabolically opposite to Amir, always energetic and oblivious of the situation. And his energy represents the current generation in an excellent job done.
Pantea Panahiha as the mother just made me cry buckets. She did portray herself to be strong yet from within she knew that this could be the last time she would be seeing her son. And that conflict was beautifully portrayed onscreen in an outstanding act. Hasan Ma’juni as the father is a character who has seen the world around him and knows how it functions. Yet, he doesn’t wish to gift his tedious life to his son and instead prefers him to leave. And that sentiment was brilliantly pulled off in a towering act!
Hit The Road is a delicate and melancholic tragedy that will most definitely leave you heart broken, a film that comes with my highest recommendation. As said earlier, there are films and then there are films that prompt you to write! There are films that you discover and then there are films are discover you!