3 Faces is a rare treat of film. Ostensibly its a road trip starring its Iranian director and co-writer Jafar Panahi and real life actress Behnaz Jafari as themselves. Following receipt of a very distressing video clip of a teenage village girl appearing to hang herself, the distraught actress abandons her film shoot to jump in Panahi’s car and go in search of the girl’s home and family. The girl had been trying to contact the actress for some time and had despaired of anyone being able to help her. Trapped in a traditional farming village she was expected to marry and was not being allowed to follow her dreams of becoming an actor despite her incredible good fortune at being accepted into an acting conservatory in Tehran.
Jafari is suspicious right from the start that she is being duped by the girl, wondering if some clever editing of the phone footage has taken place or even if she is being tricked by the director into being in some kind of strange suicide film; a nicely light meta-reference that introduces the tone of the film despite the fact a young girl may in fact be dead. The observational camera, watching from inside the car gives the film a neo-realist view and certainly the characterful Iranian mountain folk they encounter in their search appear true, vital and real in their stories, appearence and quirks; one old lady points them in the direction of the village they seek whilst lying in her freshly dug grave hoping to scare off the snakes before she gets buried in it; another chap whose prize bull has collapsed in the road despairs of what he will tell the heifers who are expecting the highly sought after beast and another entrusts his son’s 38 year old, salted foreskin to their care.
This is director Panahi’s 8th feature since his globally acclaimed debut 1995’s The White Balloon, a beautiful pre-adolescence snapshot of a young girl’s Tehrani life experience via her attempts to procure a goldfish. Having been jailed and persecuted for his artistic freedom it is extraordinary that this director is making films at all let alone with such charm, compassion and demonstrative fondness for his country and fellow man.
This is a microcosmic story of a man and a woman who are just friends that try to help a girl; 3 Faces, 3 humans. A tale so simple, so beautifully and expertly told, that you barely notice how cinematically rare and politically complex it is. Not just by dint of being from an extraordinary and troubled country but by Penahi’s refreshing, uncynical presentation of gender parity quietly triumphing over the old ways.Find your cinema and book tickets