Hit the Road

Released 2021

SUNDAY 18 JUNE 10.00 am
TUESDAY 20 JUNE 8.15 pm
RUNNING TIME 93 minutes


A family trip is the occasion for humour and heartbreak. What makes this film so memorable and devastating is the way it explores normal life under duress. An unseen, oppressive force – presumably some aspect of the government – imposes its will on them.

Review: A. O. Scott

Dad is grumbling in the back seat, which he shares with his motormouth 6-year-old son. The two of them mock and provoke each other like a vaudeville double act, with an element of physical comedy provided by the cast on the father’s leg, which limits his movements and sours his mood. The peanut gallery, up front, consists of the older brother, who is driving, and his mother, who is wittier than her husband but less of a show-off.

The four of them enjoy getting on one another’s nerves, which is part of what makes them a family. All in all, they are good company. In real life, you might not want to be stuffed into a car with these people — and let’s not forget their dog, Jesse — on a dusty stretch of Iranian highway, but from the first jokey moments of Hit the Road until its heartbreaking end you will not want to be anywhere else.

Not that this film, the first feature directed by Panah Panahi, is exactly Little Miss Sunshine. The reasons for the trip emerge slowly, as do the hints of anxiety and sorrow that creep into the good-natured banter. The family members have all agreed to leave their cellphones behind (though not all of them have done so), and they worry about being followed. Their vehicle, a beige S.U.V., is borrowed. Property has been sold and favours called in. This isn’t a vacation.

The older son must leave the country. We don’t know why, but we can infer that the alternatives are grim. He and his parents try to keep this information from the younger boy, who is told that his brother is going off to get married. It’s not clear that he believes this, but he is protected by the blissful narcissism of childhood as well as the warmth and patience of his mother and father.

The destination is a remote, rural border area, where other families in similar circumstances are camped out, making the best of a sad, uncertain situation. Panahi, whose father, Jafar Panahi, is one of Iran’s leading filmmakers, has a storytelling style that is at once clear and elusive. The personalities of the four people in the car are strong and distinct; you’re on familiar terms with them even before you learn their names.

But they’re also mysterious, and not only because basic questions — Where do they live? What do they do for a living? How did their trouble start? — remain unanswered. The more time you spend with them, the more complicated each of them becomes, and the more you feel the weight and strength of the bonds that connect them.

Hassan Madjooni, who plays the father, is a large, saturnine presence with a special kind of charisma. Hobbled by his leg injury and humbled by age, the character hides a large, tender heart behind a scrim of sarcasm. His wife (the remarkable Pantea Panahiha) clearly has long practice in dealing with his moods and deflecting his darts. The older son (Amin Simiar) is an introvert; his brother (a serial scene stealer named Rayan Sarlak) is very much the opposite.

Family life, on the road or off, often involves competition for space. Everyone needs both emotional support and room to breathe, and nobody gets everything they want. That much is normal. What makes Hit the Road so memorable and devastating is the way it explores normal life under duress. An unseen, oppressive force — presumably some aspect of the government that has harassed Panahi’s father for more than a decade and tried to prevent him from making films — imposes its will on them. That invisible cruelty makes the tenderness and good humour of this movie all the more precious, and almost unbearable.

Source: www.nytimes.com ~ A.O.Scott 21//4/2022 Edited extracts accessed 16/11/2022