Anything you read about Jafar Panahi, director of 3 Faces, will mention his being banned from filmmaking and international traveling by the Iranian government in 2010, and that he’s made four films since being banned, all in complete secrecy. 3 Faces distinguishes itself by going outside, both literally and figuratively, Panahi’s walls. His other post-ban films take place indoors—an apartment, a beach house, and a taxi, in that order— and function either as documentary or autofiction. Each project takes him further outside of his exile, and in 3 Faces, Panahi takes us into a rural, Turkish-speaking village to explore the role of women in Iranian society, a project that leaves Panahi both physically exposed and ideologically at odds with his censors.
3 Faces opens with unsettling smart-phone footage of a young woman named Marziyeh, who tearfully recounts being accepted into a prestigious acting school but prevented from attending by her family. She ends the video by asking a friend to contact acclaimed Iranian actress Behnaz Jafari and then stepping into a noose and dropping the phone, apparently comitting suicide. Jafari and Panahi drive to the village to investigate, encountering some eccentric locals and interesting customs. The pair find the village culture to be warm and lively although stifling to women, with their restrictive views on work and vocation having not only pigeonholed Marziyeh, but a former Iranian dancer and actress who has been forced into isolation within the community, as well.
As a result of his limitations, Panahi’s script takes place within small parameters. The director and actress play themselves and locals make up the rest of the cast. Many scenes revolve around seemingly mundane dialogues with the villagers, where Panahi and Jafari slowly assess the attitudes contextualizing Marziyeh’s ordeal and possible whereabouts. While they seek answers as to her fate, their own roles in society come into question, and they are forced to evaluate the general validity of entertainment as a career. Behnaz Jafari differs from Jafar Panahi not only because of her particular mode of artistry, but because being an actress garners her more recognition than being a director. Panahi drives them to the location and facilitates without being seen, much like a director, and Jafari assumes a role rather like a cultural ambassador. We often see Jafari hanging back and trying to make sense of an inscrutable situation, while Jafari fully engages with the community on their terms, eventually allying with the women of the village out of solidarity.
What forms from this is a curiously detached examination of the more subtle implications of patriarchal norms. Marziyeh, while being admonished for the perceived frivolity of her acting dreams, is nonetheless prohibited by the men from widening a tediously narrow road in the village, which they define as a “man’s job. Here, “men’s work” is valued over “women’s work”, even though these hazily defined terms overlap, and women are disallowed from engaging in “men’s work”, thereby reducing the worth of whatever contribution they might try to make. Delineating what belongs to men and what belongs to women, valuing what belongs to men, and then barring women from those things is on page one of the gender discrimination handbook, so it’s not hard to see how these issues extend beyong one small Iranian village. Although Jafar Panahi’s role seems hands off when considering the character he writes for himself, his role as the writer and director of 3 Faces demonstrates the very global, humanist activism that so incenses his government, and why it’s so vital that he continues to defy said institution. | Nic Champion
The release of this Blu-ray contains a printed booklet of an interview with Panahi about the production of the film. Aside from the content of the films, the stories behind their production are fascinating. This is Not a Film,for instance, was smuggled out of the country in a flashdrive hidden in a cake.