Riding Rings Around Iran's Censors In 'Jafar Panahi's Taxi' An Iranian director banned from making films skirts the rules again in Jafar Panahi's Taxi.
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Riding Rings Around Iran's Censors In 'Jafar Panahi's Taxi'

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Riding Rings Around Iran's Censors In 'Jafar Panahi's Taxi'

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Riding Rings Around Iran's Censors In 'Jafar Panahi's Taxi'

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

How do you make a movie when you've been told you cannot make movies? Award-winning Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi has been figuring this out since 2010, when authorities in Tehran banned him from writing or directing movies for 20 years. While under house arrest, he made a film called, "This Is Not A Film," and he has since made two more. Critic Bob Mondello says his most recent, "Taxi," is also his most clever.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: You tell a guy he can't operate a camera, write a script or direct a movie, and what does he do? He drives a taxi. There's a camera on the dashboard of Jafar Panahi's taxi, pointed out front when the film starts so you can see the traffic at a busy intersection in Tehran. When the first passengers get in, they wonder if it's an anti-theft device...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TAXI")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken).

MONDELLO: ...And turn it around to examine it. And now you can see two of the three passengers as they talk with the driver - argue, really - about whether capital punishment is the ultimate anti-theft device. But it's when the arguers get out that the third passenger puts the film on an unexpectedly amusing track.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TAXI")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken).

MONDELLO: "Mr. Panahi," this guy says...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TAXI")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken).

MONDELLO: "...I recognize you. The man and the woman, they were actors, right?"

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TAXI")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken).

MONDELLO: At which point we have cheerfully arrived in meta-land. This passenger turns out to be a one-man traveling video store, zipping around the city delivering Kurosawa and Woody Allen DVDs to customers, not to mention season five of "The Walking Dead," all of which are banned by the authorities. He's quite funny, especially when it occurs to him that his clients will be impressed that he's riding around with a notorious filmmaker.

Other passengers offer different windows on Iranian society, most of them played for comedy. An accident victim who thinks he's dying borrows Panahi's phone to dictate a last will and testament so that his ostentatiously wailing wife will inherit, not his brothers. Two women hop in with a bowl of goldfish, which echoes the plot of an early Panahi movie. And another talks about visiting a girl who was jailed for sneaking into a volleyball stadium, which echoes another Panahi movie. And while those qualify as inside jokes, everyone will get the point when Panahi picks up his own 9-year-old niece, Hana. And after she's finished lobbying for ice cream, she starts talking about a school assignment to make a screenable movie for class. From the driver's seat, Panahi, all innocence, quizzes her about what makes a movie screenable. And she recites the official government rules, the very ones that landed him in jail.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TAXI")

HANA: (Foreign language spoken).

MONDELLO: "No sordid realism can be shown. No politics or economics. Men must not wear ties unless they're villains. Good guys must be given the sacred names of Islamic saints. There can be no contact between men and women." These are tricky rules to adhere to in the real world, as Hana discovers when she pulls out her camera. But by that time, "Taxi" has made its more meta point, both comically and with cinematic flair. By obeying only the letter, not the spirit of the official rules, Panahi has shown that censors accomplish only so much. The rich, not-always-rule-following mosaic of Iranian life he's created in "Taxi," at once inspired and inspiring, is the portrait that the outside world will see of Iran. I'm Bob Mondello.

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