TAXI TEHRAN (PG)
82 minutes/Opens tomorrow/ 5/5
The story: A cab plies the streets of Teheran, picking up passengers who form the cross-section of Iranian society.
They engage the enigmatic driver (Jafar Panahi) in conversations that range from the lofty to the mundane. The action is captured docu-drama style, with cameras mounted on the dashboard.
Dissident director Jafar Panahi lives with a film-making ban and the threat of being sent to jail for making art that the Iranian regime finds objectionable.
Yet he has found a way to be more prolific and imaginative than artists under no restrictions at all.
His latest work, Taxi Tehran (simply titled Taxi in some other parts of the world), is the latest to be made under constrained circumstances.
Panahi blurs the line between fact and fiction in this work, winner of the Golden Bear top prize at this year's Berlin Film Festival.
He drives a taxi as himself, in a cheeky reference to his status as a film-maker who has to make a living through other means.
His passengers are a mix of actors and real people playing themselves. Some of them recognise him, some do not, but each one offers a glimpse into the inner workings of the country's capital city and what it means to make meaningful art under a regime that frowns on any form of expression that it finds undesirable.
In each interaction, Panahi is an observer, but finds himself drawn in, largely because of his poor sense of direction.
The exchanges are little gems of absurdity, as when he has to send an injured man and his desperate wife to a hospital, resulting in a tragicomic sequence of events in which the man makes a video will on Panahi's mobile phone bequeathing his possessions to his wife, who, under Iranian law, is not automatically entitled to them.
In another sequence dripping with sly humour, Panahi picks up a man who sells pirated DVDs for a living, a man who also happens to be a fan of the director.
This opens the way to a self-deprecating dialogue about film-maker pretentiousness.
The highlight among the passengers is his own niece, Hana Saedi, a chatty, precocious girl who is in the midst of a film-making project in her school and recites to a bemused Panahi the regime-approved tenets for good film-making.
Villains, for example, must not be made to look Iranian, she says.
Throughout, no one addresses Panahi's own real- life plight, but almost every interaction alludes to it, while the director himself smiles and nods, in a kind of extended private joke that would be funny, if it were not so tragic.
Taxi Tehran opens tomorrow at The Projector, 05-00 Golden Mile Tower, 6001 Beach Road.