Monday, August 15, 2022

Hit The Road – a film about loss and separation tinged with humour to distract from the pain (QFT until 18 August)

Hit The Road is a beautiful, family drama. A road trip permeated by loss and imminent separation.

While a mother (Pantea Panahiha) sings along with the car radio in the passenger seat, and a father (Hassan Madjooni) slouches in the back with one leg in plaster, Farid (Amin Simiar) is at the wheel for his last journey with the family for a while. His full-of-beans younger brother (Rayan Sarlak) bounces around the back seat, and Jessy the lethargic family dog looks longingly out the window.

Large chunks of the film are shot in the car, much of it in long takes that allow the family dynamic and each individual’s mood to be measured and monitored. The mounting stress is disguised by family japes and some great moments of humour. Watch out for the (not so) competitive cyclist who denies that Lance Armstrong cheated and pulls a fast one on the race peloton without the family realising.

The youngster’s short urinary leash means that the family make frequent stops. It provides opportunities for Farid to receive last minute parental advice: “Once there, try to smoke less” suggests his mother as they sit outdoors and take alternative drags of a cigarette.

A cell phone is turned off and confiscated. “Act normal” is the instruction when they perceive that their vehicle is being followed. A masked guide with a sack over his head appears to guide them through the foggy countryside to their destination. There’s a pervasive sense of caution and paranoia that continually reinforces that this isn’t a normal drive through the Iranian countryside.

The older son is fretting but tries not to let on to the rest of the family. Meanwhile his younger brother can see through the fabrication that Farid is heading away to get married. The ailing dog provides some comfort. The father is mostly sanguine. The mother is putting a brave face on it, perhaps cognisant that they’ll make this journey again with their younger son in 10 years’ time if they are all spared.

Like the fictional family, director Panah Panahi is in no rush to reach the end of the road. Amin Jafari’s cinematography has time and space to let nature do its thing in the background of static shots. One of the final scenes is filmed from a distance as the sun begins to set and we hear the words of the tiny figures. There’s no need to see their faces, to watch their pain. It’s visible in their voices even through the subtitles.

There’s a surreal moment while the family camp under the stars. It feels like an unnecessary fuss in a film that’s achieved so much through the ordinariness and extraordinariness of this family’s journey towards the Turkish border.

The director’s filmmaking father has recently been sentenced to six years in prison. There is considerable jeopardy for Panah to film and tell this story. His own sister fled Iran. While the details are particular to Iran, Hit The Road is also a reminder that loss visits so many families across the world. The circumstances vary – plenty of Northern Irish families will have taken a child to a ferry terminal or airport to escape joblessness or intimidation – but the pain is universal.

Hit The Road is being screened in Queen’s Film Theatre until Thursday 18 August.

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