The star of Panah Panahi’s “Hit the Road” is the family’s young son, played by Rayan Sarlak. His annoying antics and entertaining quips keep this slow, meditative story about a family’s separation moving forward.
Although a lot of the details of the situation in this Iranian film are kept intentionally vague, it follows a family: an endearingly grouchy father with a broken leg, the practical, sarcastic mother, their adult son Farid, their younger son around 7 years old and their aging dog on a road trip through Iran.
This is not a family vacation, however — they’re on this journey to get Farid to the Iran-Turkey border where he will cross over and start a new life. The film alludes to the fact that Farid is fleeing the tenuous authoritarian regime of Iran and that the family has sold their house in order to fund the son’s passage.
The parents are worried about leaving their older son and the uncertainty of not knowing when they’ll be able to see him next, but they express it through sarcasm. Not just because they can’t face the separation, but because they need to keep the truth about Farid’s escape hidden from their younger son so he doesn’t give them away. The younger son is blissfully unaware of the nature of this road trip, whining about having to leave his cell phone behind and confused by his family’s constant suspicion that someone is following them as they drive.
The film reminds us that families everywhere, even ones struggling under undemocratic regimes, are funny, complex and ultimately the same. Sarlak’s portrayal of the annoying child on a road trip is hilarious. He draws on the car’s window in red permanent marker out of boredom, he pokes his head out of the sun roof and dances to old-timey Farsi music, he says hello to cyclists on the road and the family has to give one a lift when he falls off his bike from the distraction.
The most beautiful scene of the film is when Farid is finally getting on a motorbike to cover the last stretch to the border. Panahi films it from far away so the family appears tiny in this lush, green valley in the countryside. You can hear the mother fussing over Farid, but you can’t see the anguish on her face. To their right, the father hobbles around and ties their younger son to a tree as he screams and throws a tantrum, not knowing that could be the last time he’ll see his brother for a while.
Director Panah Panahi is the son of Jafar Panahi, an award-winning auteur who has claimed prizes at film festivals ranging from Venice to Berlin for satirical films like “Taxi” and “Offside.” As of 2013, Jafar had been placed under house arrest and is forbidden from making any films by the government. This hasn’t deterred him, though, and “This Is Not a Film,” shot on a cell phone in his house, was actually smuggled to the Cannes Film Festival on a USB drive hidden inside a cake. As of July 2022, Panahi — along with Mohammad Rasoulof, another Iranian director — has been arrested for calling the Iranian government out for cracking down on citizens protesting corruption.
“Hit the Road” is Panah Panahi’s debut, and the film artfully reflects this political atmosphere in the country while maintaining a sense of humor. It also gives you the sense that this is a reflection of Panahi’s own family — where his father’s filmmaking would have left them in a constant but undefined state of stress about the regime.
Title: “Hit the Road”
Starring: Rayan Sarlak, Pantea Panahiha, Hassan Majooni
Director: Panah Panahi
If you liked: “Argo,” “A Hero,” ”There Is No Evil”
Shamrocks: 4 out of 5