In the fourth film made under his 20-year ban from the Iranian government, Jafar Panahi continues to audaciously fly in the face of his home country’s demands. Opening on an unnerving cameraphone recording of what appears to be a young girl hanging herself because her conservative Muslim family forbid her from pursuing acting, Three Faces sets out its stall early as an impassioned rail against state and religious restrictions on artistic expression.

The rest of the film isn’t quite so drastic – but it’s a mightily effective opening statement.

The recording is sent to Iranian actress Behnaz Jafari, playing a version of herself, implored by the girl to take her to Tehran so she can realise her dreams. Jafari is affected by the girl’s plea, but also deeply disturbed by the possibility that the hanging might be a fake to bait her in. With Panahi in tow (playing himself as he did in 2015’s Taxi Tehran), she journeys to the girl’s village in the remote northern region to uncover the truth.

Panahi is crafting something deeply personal here, possibly why he was motivated to blur the lines between his film and his real life in this multilayered narrative, but it is Jafari who provides the film with an emotional lightning rod – she runs the full gamut from outrage and despair to joy and curiosity. Her own conflicting relationships to religious expectations and passion for the arts elicit a melancholy empathy and play into her oddball, touching interactions with the villagers she and Panahi encounter.

At times surreally funny, at others starkly grim, Three Faces is a fine, curious effort from Panahi – less a protest piece than it initially suggests, it is a quietly likeable manifestation of the conversations that need to be had between Muslim cultures and their artists.

RATING: 4/5


INFORMATION

CAST: Behnaz Jafari, Jafar Panahi

DIRECTOR: Jafar Panahi

WRITERS: Jafar Panahi, Nader Saeivar

SYNOPSIS: Behnaz Jafari, a popular Iranian actress, searches for a young girl in northwestern Iran with her friend Jafar Panahi, a director, after seeing a video of the girl asking for help to leave her conservative family.

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London-based journalist. Flailing film freelancer. Bylines at ORWAV, CineVue, Sight & Sound, more. Waiting for Greta Gerwig and Barry Jenkins to team up and save the world. Terrified of inevitable Star Wars over-saturation. Proud Yorkshire kid.