When celebrated actor Behnaz Jafari (as herself) is sent a video of a young girl’s suicidal plea for help after her family forbids her from attending the Tehran drama conservatory, she leaves her shoot and, with the help of filmmaker Jafar Panahi (as himself), travels to the girl’s remote mountain village in a bid to aid her. It’s here the pair meet many of the colourful locals and learn of their strong belief in traditional customs, some of which are out of step with modern values. Directed and co-written by Panahi, 3 Faces is a critique of tradition in contemporary society and the value of the arts.
Currently banned from making films in Iran for his political protests and realistic depiction of the country, Panahi had to make this 3 Faces in secret, meaning that he didn’t have a lot of equipment or budget at his disposal. While the low quality of production can be felt in the occasional strains of microphones, this guerrilla style of cinéma verité arguably works to the movie’s favour; by removing the shine of standard production, it lends a larger sense of realism to events as if viewers are right there in the rural village. Likewise, the filmmaking restrictions don’t hinder the director’s eye for framing, with (sometimes too long) long takes shot beautifully. The low budget isn’t without its shortcomings, though; despite solid performances from the core cast, some smaller parts are overacted enough to break the sense of realism – and poor audio in these moments doesn’t help much either.
Where the film falters the most, however, is in its narrative execution. From what starts as the set-up of a mystery, the script plays its hand far too early, meaning that there isn’t much further for the plot to go apart from sitting, waiting and talking at length to a handful of characters. Of course, the premise is only supposed to be a means for exploring broader issues of Iranian masculinity and traditions, but had the screenplay stuck to the investigatory route for longer there could have been greater intrigue and direction given to events, especially in the underwhelming final third.
3 Faces may lack the level of polish for a film of the director’s calibre, but Panahi is still able to stuff his feature full of poignant and thoughtful subtext.
3 Faces is released in select cinemas on 29th March 2019.
Watch the trailer for 3 Faces here: