THE ROAD (Jaddeh Khaki)
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Panah Panahi
Screenwriter: Panah Panahi
Cast: Hassan Madjooni, Pantea Panahiha, Rayan Sarlak, Amin Simiar
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/8/22
Opens: April 22, 2022
“Hit the Road” takes place in a car but is unlike most of what you might see in a Hollywood project. Like “The White Balloon” of director Panah Panahi’s father, Jafar Panahi, “Hit the Road” devotes much attention on one child. Like Panahi senior’s film, which features a seven-year-old who years for a goldfish when all the stores are closed, “Hit the Road” reaches comic peaks when Amin Jafari’s lenses catch close-ups of an alternately bratty and adorable six-year-old boy (Rayan Sarlak). He quietly “plays” piano on a drawn keyboard in tune with classical piece on the soundtrack, bursting into song and spirited interjections as though to make up for the near silence of his older brother (Amin Simiar)
The film’s mood changes from the small boy’s boisterousness to the cynical responses of his father (Pantea Panahiha); from the sad countenance of the boy’s mother (Pantea Panahiha) to the same woman’s hitting karaoke to one of the several popular songs on the radio.
Much of the action takes place in the interior of the car driven by the boy’s mother while his dad reclines in the back seat, his leg, encumbered by a cast, draped over the side. He has a way of kidding with the kid, calling him a shit in the most loving way. We in the audience can see soon enough that this is not family vacation. The SUV heads from the paved roads near a city to the dusty surfaces deep into villages and uninhabited spaces. There is sadness all around: the six-year-old pouts when dad takes away his cell phone after making the boy dig inside his pants where the equipment is hiding. The parents are dejected in one sense because their dying dog is to be buried within the vast terrain but far more because their older son is about to leave the family once a mysterious smuggler (coyote?) will take him over the border in the north.
Some who see the film are going to wonder what’s up with the taciturn fellow though if you blink to you may miss a quick comment about a house that has been put up for the man’s bail. Still, no thought appears to be given by the parents who might face the loss of the living quarters when their son crosses the border.
One shot is breathtaking, near the conclusion when the father, arms outstretched together with the six-year-old seem to float way into outer space, becoming a star. Though “Hit the Road” is said to be a Cannes favorite, with Panahi making his debut at film festivals in London where it won best feature, also in Cannes and New York. While Rayan Sarlak is so spirited with a command of dialogue rare in someone that young, I longed for more narrative momentum rather than what looks like a series of skits craftily demonstrating the ability to change from rollicking laughs and song to periods of moroseness.
In Farsi with English subtitles.
93 minutes. © 2022 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – C
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – C+