HIt The Road. The title implies a journey with a beginning, but not necessarily an ending. Panah Panai’s journey without an ending embodies the title, and the emotion behind it. A script with a fascinating set of character archetypes and dynamics that all play out gradually, leading these actors to special moments. The slow revealing nature of the plot, while the characters are trapped in a laboriously long car ride through the Iranian desert, permits us to spend a deeply intimate period with a family. There is a destination to their journey, but it’s often lied about or hinted at but never stated explicitly. Even at the end of the film, it’s difficult to know the reason why this experience was necessary for this family’s survival.
It’s cryptic. Cryptic in the performance, writing, and visual language of the film. This hidden narrative element makes the mystery engaging, forcing the audience to ask a neverending set of questions with no idea if they will get answered. The character work mainly comes from Pantea Panahiha (mother) and Hassan Madjooni (father), hiding a broken interior under a facade of lies. The lies are mainly for Rayan Sarlak (younger brother), as his experience mirrors the audience. We receive and process the situation similarly to him, leaving certain details out but fearing something terrible has happened.
One thing is clear, they’re fleeing from…something. The cell phones are thrown out and there’s an underlying fear present in the car. The older brother (Bahram Ark) has done something that has given him one option, to flee. This one piece of information makes the journey heartfelt but with many complex emotions. It all culminates in the misty hillside at the end of the film, as all the fears and concerns are answered in one devastating moment.
Hit The Road is a small film but has a real heart to it. The hand-held cinematography captures all the unknowingness in their journey through beautifully grand wide shots and moving in closer with personal interiors. Panai also tells a great deal of the story through silence and expression. Panahiha is masterful at this type of acting and she has some of the best character moments of 2021 through small bits of dialogue and expression. She conveys all the hurt in her subtlety. Conversely, Madjooni is brash and plays it as a father should. The combination of the parents and Sarlak makes a hilarious trio with significant emotional depth. Surprisingly, it’s one of the 2021 films that will stick with me the most.