Por Mónica Delgado

In Three Faces, Jafar Panahi takes some motifs from Abbas Kiarostami’s cinema as a way of making an homage. Like in the themes of his colleague’s films, Panahi stablishes a clash or interrelation between social classes, in a confrontation of the illustrated world and the rural world, but here about conceptions and prejudices about the role of women and the possibilities of development and freedom in the current world. Regarding his mise in scéne, the winks to The Wind Will Carry us or Through the Olive Trees are inevitable, through some panoramic shots that allows us to explore the landscape, the roads and precarious highways, and the characters that walk from far away.

The beginning of Three Faces is overwhelming and sets the tone for the film. A theater student from a rural town asks an actress help in an unusual way: sending a video through a mobile phone where she asks for help, since her family opposes her choice of becoming an actress, and that’s why she has decided to end her life. After the request, she hangs herself. The actress, Behnaz Jafari, playing herself, moved and scandalized, tells Panahi, who is also playing himself, that maybe the video isn’t real, and they are forced to start an investigation to find the whereabouts of the girl and clear the issue.

Like in Taxi, the camera is part of the interior of the car, leaving Panahi out of field for a long time and centering the dialogues in the character of Behnaz Jafari, anguished and with a lot of questions about the student. They travel northeast, to Azerbaijan, the town where the student lives, a place where they are witness of the lack of empathy of the community with the girl’s desire to study. The work of Panahi will be to convince the family, a job that the filmmaker describes through panoramic and out of field shots.

Panahi could’ve opted to denounce the closed vision of this town and its families, who refuse to allow women to study, but his optic isn’t an accusing one, but tries to understand the interaction, achieving moments with a lot of sense of humor, without mocking, but detecting some common senses that could’ve been perceived as cliché or pre-modern to the West.

It seems that Three Faces is a film only of technique or dispositive (the camera in the car, the view of the driver-filmmaker), however, its value lies in how it describes this town, through the characters that appear in scenes, from children, students, land workers, mothers. The achievement of film like Three Faces is in the point of view that Panahi employs, like he was obliged to stay always inside the car. From his point of view we observe the fields, we guess the interior of houses or understand part of the town’s routine. And when the camera follows both characters, is to access some clues, to talk face to face with the characters of this town stuck in time.

On the other hand, the press in Cannes has celebrated the feminist side of this Iranian film in competition, which Panahi has realized in secrecy due to his house arrest, something which feels somewhat exaggerated. Panahi rather seeks to appeal to a reason different from a lecture of feminism, and poses dialogue as a way of knowing, even if the sexist establishment stays untouched, and the status quo of women has a slow or imperceptible change. The magic in Panahi to leave that possibility open, with a little human optimism.

Directed by: Jafar Panahi
Written by: Jafar Panahi, Nader Saeivar
Starring: Behnaz Jafari, Jafar Panahi, Marziyeh Rezaei, Maedeh Erteghaei
Cinematography: Amin Jafari
Edited by: Mastaneh Mohajer, Panah Panahi
Production company: Jafar Panahi Film Production
Iran, 2018