Hit the Road – Jaddeh Khaki (2021)
Directed by: Panah Panahi | 93 minutes | drama | Actors: Pantea Panahiha, Hasan Majuni, Rayan Sarlak, Amin Simiar, Masoud Tosifyan
Father, mother and two sons drive with a sick dog in the trunk on endless two-lane roads through barren landscapes. The son is a thunderstone and gets the blood from under the nails of the others but does not like it from strangers. The older son at the wheel is remarkably quiet, looking at infinity as if he wanted to finish the mind-numbing ride as soon as possible. Is the apathy mainly due to father who constantly directs and corrects him from the back seat? Meanwhile, mother tries to keep the peace. Very recognizable, were it not for the fact that the story is set in Iran. In addition, this drama, packed extraordinarily compactly in an SUV, makes it no big mystery that dark clouds are piling over the family. ‘Hit the Road’ is therefore anything but a fun weekend out with the family.
Director Panah Panahi tears his directorial debut to the finish with playful ease. Not entirely unexpected, because it’s in the blood. Panah is the son of renowned filmmaker and political dissident, Jafar Panahi. For decades, father Jafar has been a thorn in the side of the Iranian regime, which has officially banned him from making films for 20 years. But even in political exile, Jafar will not be silenced, as witnessed by ‘Taxi’ (2015), among others, in which he poses as a taxi driver in Tehran and interviews passengers about their daily lives. The driver in the driving yellow cocoon also elicits statements from fellow travelers about social changes in the homeland. This fascinating period document also sheds an interesting light on ‘Hit the Road’. From the comfort of a modern means of transport, Panah, like his father, shows the deep flaws of a rigid regime that canstize its own society and slowly causes it to crash.
Just like the son in the movie makes beauty mistakes while driving, Panah also flies out of the corner a few times. Though daring, some stylistic choices, including played-back musical numbers, flatter the tacit suffering that haunts those few square feet. Moreover, some metaphors are very heavy-handed. As a road movie it is a dark cousin of ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ (Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris, 2006). The latter makes a playful commentary on the American dream, but in ‘Hit the Road’ chasing dreams is not an issue at all. In a fairly subtle way, Panah shows what a predominantly unfree world does to the Iranian nuclear family. Hopefully he will be spared the fate of his father.