As one of the only Iranian films with traction and visibility on the international festival circuit, Jafar Panahi’s Three Faces has much to prove. The film shouldn’t have to assume this role, but due to the vagaries of programming and distribution, a forced narrative — say, one that sees Panahi’s film as a privileged window into the socio-political turmoil of modern day Iran — is somewhat inevitable. This situation appears to be of some concern to Panahi, especially since his films cannot be legally screened in Iran. Three Faces follows the director and adored actress Behnaz Jafari (both playing themselves) as they go on a road trip to rural Iran to investigate what looks to be a filmed suicide. The incident in question concerns a young woman who had hoped Jafari could convince her family of the value in pursuing an acting career.
Jafari’s apparent inability to save the woman prompts the actor-director pair to reconsider their social responsibilities as artists: Who do we make movies for? What is the value of on-screen representation? How do we make movies that transcend cosmopolitan insularity? These are all questions worth asking, but Panahi tends to land on the easiest answers, and mostly allows himself to escape the self-scrutiny seemingly promised by his premise. Thanks to a heavily telegraphed twist, Three Faces turns into hokey self-aggrandizement. A potential indictment of both Panahi and his audience is traded for a simplistic template of an established director boosting the voices of women and the rural populace. That message has merit, but the film built around it merely applauds Panahi for the effort.
Published as part of Before We Vanish | Issue 3.