Directed by Jafar Panahi
3 Faces opens with cell phone footage of a young girl’s call for help. She lives in a remote Iranian village with hopes of studying at an acting conservatory in Tehran. Her family, notably her brother, can’t stand the idea, and they marry her off in hopes she’ll abandon such dreams. In the minutes-long unbroken clip, the girl, Marziyeh, speaks to the intended recipient of the video, an actress named Behnaz. Before she gives Behnaz an opportunity to respond, Marziyeh appears to hang herself.
The cell phone clip is one of many long unbroken shots in the film. It’s followed immediately by a medium close-up on Behnaz as she takes this in while in a moving car driven by her director, Jafar. I specify that it’s moving because before another cut we will watch them drive down a highway, pull off to the side of the road, then track her movements all the way around the car. It’s a subtly dynamic shot, strangely showy in its own way, as if there just to prove what this filmmaking team is capable of.
Most of the movie takes place inside that car as they are already on their way to the village where Marziyeh is from. Behnaz is overcome with emotion at the thought that she couldn’t save this young girl. She asks Jafar if it’s possible the video is a fake, and after considering the idea he shoots it down. Only a professional editor could fake that video.
Whether she believes it or not, Behnaz begins to insist that the girl must still be alive. She finds mounting evidence to support her claim, but considering her vulnerable state (we also hear from a producer on the movie they were working on who speaks to the idea that Behnaz can be a bit dramatic) it might just be that she needs to believe she’s still alive.
The duo’s trip into the remote village is a charming one. It has a lot in common with Taste of Cherry, a 1997 Iranian film made by director Abbas Kiarostami, and some have called this an homage to the director. In that previous film a man drove his car down what look like the same roads of this movie, in search of someone for a job about which he won’t go into much detail. He promises a substantial amount of money for quick work, and the film takes place over the course of a small handful of long conversations with those who would consider such a mysterious task.
3 Faces is centered around similar types of interactions. The characters talk with characters they pass by, often while still in the vehicle, in search of information without giving away too much of their own. Though the people they meet are affable and seemingly harmless, they speak of the young girl our duo is after with disdain. Were this a more sensational movie it might even cross your mind that they killed her themselves.
But such a thing is too out of this world for this movie, grounded very much in realism and quiet, human moments. These are structured around conversations unconcerned with plot, in which characters offer insight into their own lives, the lives of others and the almost adorable details of life in their small town (one involving honking on mountain roads with poor visibility).
That realism, I should mention, extends to the characters themselves, all playing themselves. Director Jafar Panahi plays a director, and Behnaz Jafari plays Behnaz. Whether there is some deep subtextual reading into all of this, I don’t know. It might just be that as they were coming up with this story about people not unlike themselves, they figured why complicate matters and instead just stepped into the roles already made for them.
Up Next: Metropolis (1927), It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books (1988), Diane (2018)