REVIEW: 3 Faces

3 Faces is an incredible meditation on the overlap of fiction and reality,” writes Zach Karpinellison

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Jafar Panahi’s 3 Faces draws on the real, the unreal and the allowed to construct a calm but tense narrative. It compels its audience to reconfigure their understanding of Panahi as a political filmmaker. Expert craft, cinematography and performance colour a slow but intellectually rich work that is hypnotic and fiercely provocative.

Panahi has been “banned” from making films since his arrests in 2009 and 2010, and yet in the subsequent decade he has continued to make films with two caveats: an understanding that they will never screen in Iran, and a refusal to commit to the label – film. In this way he negotiates the restrictions imposed upon him. This is most famously demonstrated by his first work since his arrest, This is not a film, which diarises his obsession with the trauma of his prohibited condition. The film drew much praise at international festivals, winning awards and even inspiring a rumour that it was smuggled overseas via a thumb drive stuffed inside a cake. Iranian cinema insiders refute this claim, dismissing it as an imperialist slight, pointing instead to Panahi’s access to the internet as the source of the film’s cosmopolitan transit.

This slight fetishization of Panahi as an underground or punk filmmaker is important context for his new work which obsesses over this central question: what is the risk of creating a fictional version of oneself as a means of skirting societal and governmentally imposed constraints? The film opens on footage of teenager Marziyeh Rezaei (played by the actress of the same name) appearing to commit suicide and sending a final plea to actress Behnaz Jafari (again played by the real actress of the same name). The film then follows Behnaz and Jafar Panahi (as himself) attempting to track this girl, constantly questioning the legitimacy of her video, poking holes in its plot, and weighing its amateurism or professionalism. Once the truth of Marziyeh’s fate is revealed Panahi lets the film drift into a series of poetic vignettes that offer insights into the conditions of gendered and restricted existence in isolated, post-revolution Iran. These moments are, of course, tethered to a the film’s narrative arc as a whole, but they sit somewhere between short stories and documentary testimonials.

Panahi’s  direction constantly shifts the perspectival centre, with the audience tracking different characters across different times, with much of the action occurring off screen – heard only in alarming shouts and one-sided phone calls. Like many of his films, Panahi anchors the drama in space of the car. It is the site of arguments as well as the literal vehicle used to advance the plot. However, beyond the intimacy of the car there are things we cannot and will not know about our protagonists. This feels equal parts playful and sombre; it is a primer on Panahi’s work. 3 Faces is an incredible meditation on the overlap of fiction and reality, and the ways a filmmaker like Panahi, immersed in his political condition, can exist in the world of films.

Zach Karpinellison