3 Faces (2019; Jafar Panahi)
By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday, March 29, at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco.
3 Faces is the fourth feature film from Iranian writer-director Jafar Panahi since 2010, the year that the Islamic Revolutionary Court sentenced him to house arrest and imposed a 20-year ban on making movies. Meanwhile, I’m walking around free as a bird, and my script about a cheerleader academy for dogs remains tragically unwritten.
A deliberately paced road movie and self-aware quasi-documentary shot almost entirely from the perspective of a car dashboard, 3 Faces stars Panahi and Iranian actress Behnaz Jafari as themselves.
The film begins with the cell phone-filmed suicide of Marziyeh Rezaei (also playing herself), an aspiring young actress denied her shot at acting school by her disapproving family. Rezaei addressed the video suicide note to her hero Jafari but (somehow) sent it to Panahi, and the first act of 3 Faces follows Panahi and Jafari as they drive to find the girl, both of them wondering whether or not the suicide is a hoax.
Equal parts so-so Antonioni and meh Altman, 3 Faces comes out strong with an enticing and playful truth vs. fiction dialectic (at one point, Panahi takes a phone call from his mother, promising her that he’s not making another film), but eventually morphs into an admirable but detached study of Iranian actresses across the generations. There are some quietly beautiful moments, but unlike Panahi’s previous post-arrest efforts, the pace severely drags here. Still, 3 Faces does become the new clubhouse leader for the title of most awkwardly rambling monologue about foreskin in movie history.