Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | May 20th, 2022
Hit the Road (Panah Panahi, 2021) 4 out of 4 stars.
Good filmmaking occasionally runs in families, as Panah Panahi—the son of famed Iranian director Jafar Panahi (3 Faces)—proves with his debut feature, Hit the Road. As the title promises, the film offers a literal journey that our protagonists take on their way to a destination both real and metaphorical. Though present-day Iran may not be the international bogeyman some would have us believe, as evidenced by the raw humanity on display here, it is still a nation where certain freedoms come at a cost. Be prepared to pay.
We meet our cast of characters as they stop on the side of a highway. They’re a family of four: mother, father, adult son, and juvenile boy. They also have a dog with them, though we learn that he is sick and may be dying. They’re headed into the mountains, where they hope to rendezvous with a smuggler who can take their eldest across the border. He’s due in court over a transgression (we never learn what it is) and so this is his only escape.
Along the way, we spend time in the company of a vibrant collection of personalities. Mom (Pantea Panahiha, Breath) is mostly no-nonsense, though capable of sudden flights of whimsy; Dad (Hasan Majuni, Pig) is the curmudgeonly jokester of the bunch, his leg in a cast from some previous mishap; Farid (Amin Simiar) is the future exile, and the one driving, and is anything but joyful; and then there’s the youngest (Rayan Sarlak), a bundle of energy who never lets up. They argue, laugh, and sometimes sit in pensive silence, just like any other family, and also uniquely their own thing.
Even as we climb towards the summits where the smugglers live, Panahi masterfully mixes humor and drama, allowing moments of pure comedy to be leavened through long-take scenes of meditative conversation. A seemingly minor incident where the family hits a bicyclist in a road race becomes a bit of raucous fun in a wholly unanticipated way. Similarly, a bickering walk through a ravine between father and son suddenly transforms into a serious moment of reflection between the two. It’s in these surprising transitions that the movie reveals its cinematic power.
There’s even a charming twist of the fantastic towards the end, involving stars and constellations around a campfire. The unfortunate dog, a heretofore minor prop, also plays a moving role in the film’s final minutes. All of it comes together to make of Hit the Road a profound experience of love, loss and perseverance, The next time these folks take a trip, sign me up as a passenger, please.