Movie reviews: Taxi Tehran, Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, They Will Have to Kill Us First
Paul Whitington reviews this week's other new releases: Taxi Tehran, Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, They Will Have to Kill Us First
Listen to Me Marlon review: 'Brando's private tapes make this documentary work'Jafar Panahi might consider sending a letter of thanks to his persecutors in the Iranian administration, because all their efforts seem to have done is made him a better film-maker. Since being arrested in 2010, jailed and later sentenced to house arrest (he can now move about more freely, but is still forbidden from leaving Iran), Mr Panahi has produced three films on shoestring budgets that brilliantly use his own circumstance to describe the condition of an artist under theocracy.
In This Is Not a Film (2011) and Closed Curtain (2013), Panahi explored the dark nights of the soul induced by house arrest, but in Taxi Tehran (5*, No Cert, IFI, 82mins) he's out and about, playing a fictionalised version of himself who's now comically reduced to working as a cabbie.
As he travels the city Panahi is recognised as a celebrity by customers who then become embarrassed on his behalf. The film's conceit is that he shoots them with a static security camera, and as the punters come and go they give us an intriguing snapshot of contemporary Iran.
The characters he meets are often comic, sometimes tragic. When two old ladies get in carrying a goldfish in a bowl, chaos inevitably ensues, and the film's funniest moments involve a peddler of western DVDs who in Iran's stern theocracy is forced to act like a drug dealer. Darker moments come when he picks up an old friend, a female lawyer disbarred for thought crimes, and they discuss the case of a woman jailed for trying to attend a men's volleyball game. Beautifully balanced, cheerful but incisive, Taxi Tehran is playful, but also deadly serious.
In the mid-1960s a radical group emerged in urban America that put a bomb under race relations. The Black Panthers began as a kind of armed self-defence unit, and were formed to tackle persistent police brutality in the northern Californian city of Oakland. There, the almost exclusively white police force were notorious for their harassment of young black men, and radical students Huey P. Nelson and Bobby Seale formed the Panthers to follow the cops around and intervene whenever they stopped black people.
Thanks to a loophole in Californian law, they were free to bear arms, and later used them to stage a dramatic protest at the California state assembly. That stunt brought them to public attention, but also in sights of J. Edgar Hoover, who vowed to bring them down.
Stanley Nelson Jr spent seven years amassing his documentary Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (4*, No Cert, IFI, 115mins), talking to as many Panthers veterans as he could to try and present a balanced view of a movement whose legacy is still bitterly contested.
The Panthers' confused manifesto included shades of Marxism, Leninism and the black nationalist theories of Malcolm X, and to begin with they were a force for good in many poor communities. But the movement's descent into violence and corruption was swift and fatal, as Mr. Nelson's fine film painstakingly demonstrates.
When Islamist rebels invaded northern Mali in 2012 to further complicate a nasty civil war, one of the first things they did was ban the making and performance of music. Why? Because it led to illicit pleasure and happiness, possibly, but these morons weren't joking, and were soon hacking off the hands of those they considered had broken their sharia law.
Johanna Schwartz's worthy documentary They Will Have to Kill Us First (3*, No Cert, IFI, 105mins) follows some of Timbuktu's most prominent musicians as they flee south to avoid the violence, join forces for concerts of protest, and eventually return in muted triumph to their liberated lands. Some of the music is terrific, especially from Songhoy Blues, but Ms Schwartz's film meanders aimlessly at times.
Coming soon... Brooklyn (Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson); Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (Tye Sheridan); Kill Your Friends (Nicholas Hoult, Georgia King).