This review was published as part of our Cannes festival coverage on 13/05/2018.
If you want to know what a film is, ask Jafar Panahi. Under the thumb of a repressive Iranian regime that censors its cinema, he has found ingenious ways to redefine the form itself. His solutions are often a mix of reality and fiction, shot inside cars to escape the government’s gaze, and featuring himself in proud defiance of his filmmaking ban. Three Faces is no different.
It opens with a tear-stained plea from Marziyeh, a traumatised teen hoping to study acting, delivered down the lens of her mobile. Her family are opposed and she begs actress Behnaz Jafari to help. The video ends with Marziyeh placing her head inside a noose and the phone crashing to the ground.
It’s an audacious opening scene, but minutes later there’s a whiff of fake news. As Panahi and Behnaz search for the girl we learn that the video might have been edited, and even more mischievously, Panahi recently sent Behnaz a script about suicide. Is Behnaz simply caught up in Panahi’s filmmaking games?
His camera often remains fixed on Behnaz’s face, even while he is talking, creating a strange kind of male gaze. But rather than objectifying his starring women, Panahi is more concerned with bearing witness to their experience and emotions in a society that often prefers them not to be seen at all.
The pair encounter a series of locals who embody an absurd communal bureaucracy of informal rules dictating where men and women can be, when food and drink should be offered – and they all block the simple communication Behnaz is striving for.
In a society where entertainers are censored, it feels right to end with a cracked frame. But no matter how many blows they suffer, Panahi and his unique brand of cinema won’t be broken that easily.
CAST: Behnaz Jafari, Jafar Panahi, Marziyeh Rezaei
DIRECTOR: Jafar Panahi
WRITERS: Jafar Panahi, Nader Saeivar
SYNOPSIS: Three actresses at different stages of their career. One from before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, one popular star of today known throughout the country and a young girl longing to attend a drama conservatory.