Jafar Panahi is not one of my favourite Iranian directors. His self-conscious self-referential technique of centring his films around his persona as a director has always kept me at a distance from his films, although I understand the relevance given his 20-year travel and directing ban. Three Faces follows this same style but, for the first time, I felt he kept himself to the margins of the story and let the real star, Behnaz Jafari, shine.
The main characters are all playing themselves. Jafari is distraught after seeing a video made by young aspiring actor Marziyeh Rezaei that seems to show her suicide. Co-opting director Panahi into driving her to the remote village near the borders of Turkey and Azerbaijan that the girl is from, Jafari can’t decide whether it is real or a stunt to catch her attention. When they arrive at the village, they quickly learn that Marziyeh’s desire to study drama has marked her as ’empty-headed’ and dishonoured her family. She is likened to retired actor and dancer Shahrzad, a women in the village whose poor means show the folly of choosing entertaining as a career.
As expected, the film is full of long, unbroken takes, incidental dialogue with quirky locals and has an unhurried, leisurely pace. Panahi, thankfully, is the observer and it is the story of the three women, the ‘three faces’ of female actors from the past, present and future, that slowly and compellingly spins around him.
Jafari is excellent, as usual, and I could watch her face all day. The peculiar rituals and rules of the village are entertaining but stultifying in their rigidity. Jafari is welcomed as a celebrity but clearly positioned as an outsider due to her lack of Turkish. It is the men of the village who make and enforce the rules but the women who maintain the essential humanity.
There is a metaphor here, of women past, present and future. It is not a happy metaphor though there is hope and strength there and an acknowledgment by Panahi of the culpability of male directors.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.