Film review: Hit the Road

A wonderful Iranian road trip movie from Panah Panahi

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Hit the Road (from 29 July, Home, Manchester, and other cinemas regionwide) is an Iranian comedy drama in which a middle-aged couple, their two sons and their ailing dog travel across Iran in a rented car on a mission that is, for the first half of the film at least, unclear. What is clear from the outset is that something is amiss. The youngest boy, six years old, is enraged that his mobile phone has been taken away, while his mother scurries away into the desert to hide it, having snapped the sim card in two. The father sits in the back of the car, his leg in a cast, while their eldest son stares out at the road ahead, sullen and sad. To say too much more about what unfolds plot wise would spoil the joy of watching this curious film, which might best be described as a cross between the wonderful US road movie Little Miss Sunshine and a Beckett play.

This is a debut film from writer-director Panah Panahi, son of Jafar Panahi, one of Iran’s most influential filmmakers. And it’s clear that Panah is set to follow in his father’s footsteps with this funny and moving film.

A sharply crafted script, beautiful cinematography, and impeccable performances combine to create something magical. The family, who remain for the most part unnamed, are entirely convincing as they bicker, laugh, sing and cry their way through this odyssey. Rayan Sarlak, playing the youngest son, deserves a special mention. He effortlessly encapsulates the ignorant joy and wild energy of the child as he hurls himself around the inside of the car, sings a song about pee and engages in some impressive choreography in the film’s closing musical number (the film also has a great Iranian soundtrack).

It’s also a wonderfully balanced film. Things never tip into melodrama, emotional outbursts are few and far between and a funny line is always just around the corner to puncture the tension, but there is tension nonetheless. Even though we learn little about this chaotic family, we learn to love and care for them as we know they love and care for each other. Though a relatively simple tale, this film has a great deal to say about family, love and sacrifice, while giving an insight into life in modern Iran.

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