Awkward Infusions: Our Review of ‘3 Faces’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - March 07, 2019
Awkward Infusions: Our Review of ‘3 Faces’

For those not in the know, Iranian director Jafar Panahi endured a jail sentence for making subversive movies. He also got an additional 20 year ban from making films. But that didn’t stop him from making four feature length movies. There’s a sense of urgency in these films, only making movies because he has to. It’s a relate-able energy for some of us in the arts. People like us who profess that our dreams are dead but reach for them anyway. There’s also a compassion in these works that still comes out despite some flaws that might surface.

That compassion is necessary 3 Faces, Panahi’s latest work, where he plays himself. With him is Behnaz Jafari, as herself, an actress playing hooky from another film production. She comes with him in a road trip to what is presumably northwestern Iran. And the reason why they’re in this road trip is because of a woman. That woman, Marziyeh Rezaei, sent a video pleading to them. Her family won’t let her go to an acting school in Tehran. They might have been able to help. Panahi and Jafari visit the place where Marziyeh commits suicide, an act she commits on video.

The film eventually shows that village and its citizens, which makes both Panahi and Jafari suspicious. They expected an insular, xenophobic village. Instead all they got are villagers welcoming the two Tehrani artists. This village is good at hiding their secret dead. But there’s another possibility – that Marziyeh’s suicide video is a hoax. There are signs and red flags within the video that makes Jafari point to that conclusion. That’s despite Panahi’s protestations that Marziyeh isn’t good enough of a video editor to fake her own death. Is she desperate enough to do this?

Panahi and Jafari eventually meet Marziyeh’s family, whose presence adds more questions than answers them. Despite that ambiguity, these encounters shows what the film does best. It shows the two navigate a space that is perpetually new to them, a village with conservative values. That’s especially true with Jafari, whose national level of fame plays into these encounters. She might be a famous actress in relatively liberal Iran. But to Marziyeh’s family, she’s a wayward entertainer whose fate is as uncertain as their prodigal daughter’s.

Panahi’s new film has its share of unnecessary detours. It’s if it’s trying to fill some of its 95 minute running time with subplots. Panahi and Jafari also take up one too many invitations to tea. And some of these scenes expose these characters’s flaws. Specifically, that they don’t have information that could help the plot move forward. Character motivation also occasionally goes by the wayside. Panahi’s also trying to infuse wry comedy in these scenes, which work better in his previous feature, Taxi. Detours aside, there’s something palatable here even when he’s addressing serious issues.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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