de facto film reviews 3 stars

The first feature from Panah Panahi holds some of the same cinematic traits and sensibilities as his father, Jafar Panahi. Like his father, the film also delivers some subtle modern insights into the current state of Iran. With its quirky humor of troubled souls traveling across their native homeland, the film ends up becoming more austere as the narrative unfolds. In fact, Panahi’s Hit the Road, which premiered at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival as part of the Director’s Fortnight section, feels like it could have been helmed by his father. A road trip film about a family couped up in a SUV traveling across the Iranian landscape to an unknown destination. As they embark on their travels on the family trip, there are many exchanges that drift from humor to family tension, mockery, regrets, and so on. The car is certainly used as a metaphor for how the families’ emotions are confined and bottled up inside, just waiting to be unleashed.

Inside the car, we are introduced to a wounded father (Hassan Madjooni) who has a broken leg wrapped in a cast, his wise wife (Pantea Panahiha) does most of the driving; an older son (Amin Similar) who keeps to himself; and a very hyper younger son (Rayan Sariak). There is also the family dog that seems very ill and wounded. We never learn the characters’ names in the film, as they never talk or call each other by their names. Very much in the vein of the style of the late Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami (Taste of Cherry, Ten, Like Someone in Love) and even his father’s own Taxi, Panah Panahi also uses the car as a human journey in search of something more definitive. And like in those films, Panahi embarks on the same idiosyncratic journey in search of life’s spontaneity and the discoveries that wait ahead along the journey.

Review: 'Hit the Road' Is the Quiet, Low-Key Masterpiece of the Year - Rolling Stone

While Panah Panahi stays true to the Iranian auteur’s sensibilities, the end result surprisingly comes off as very inconsistent and incoherent at times with some of the characters’ decisions. At first, the film starts off like a quirky road comedy about familial reconciliation, where they bicker and get frustrated with each other, only to occasionally sing along to some Iranian pop songs on the radio. The narrative does leave room to get out of the car as the characters take many stops for cigarette breaks, sheepskin scouting, and they encounter other idiosyncratic characters, including a masked man on a motorcycle, in which the little boy refers to him as Scarecrow from Batman. There are lavish landscapes and gorgeous scenery that help give the film a woozy tone as it bounces between a family comedy and a woozy art-house film.

While frustrating on a narrative level, the screenplay has a lot of loose ends and other interludes that leave you frustrated and perplexed, but not in a fascinating way. It’s quite unclear why the family appears tempted to leave the young boy behind on a tour bus, only for them to make the rational decision not to. The man with a baghead mask on a motorcycle is also left vague, other than that it aesthetically looks peculiar (but hey, Nicholas Refn did the same thing in Drive, so why not?). However, where Hit the Road works is in strides and moments with its episodic structure. There are quite a few warm and inviting scenes that win you over–which includes a great moment in a long take where the father shares an apple by a river with his oldest son and lectures him on how a man should never cry in front of his mother, but he is allowed to cry in front of his father if he’s enduring emotional turmoil. Of course, the most memorable moment in the film is where the father is resting with his younger son on a sleeping bag as they drift away into outer space.

Hit the Road movie review & film summary (2022) | Roger Ebert

What we are left with is a narrative that is left very opaque. The narrative gives some subtle hints that the older son is in some sort of trouble and is trying to get out of Iran to a neighboring country. The family certainly paid something to protect him and for him to seek refuge, but Panahi never dives deep enough into the exposition. As a result, the storytelling is left unfocused and muddled, which can be frustrating at times. The director’s light and endearing charm, which is ironically merged with some dark humor, brings some unexpected touches to the material that keeps it both fresh and alive. Both amusing and affecting, “Hit the Road” may not be as sophisticated or as delicate as it could have been, nor as narratively coherent as it probably should be, but it is a film made of charming moments and emotional curiosity that make it a worthy debut feature for Panah Panahi, who holds so much potential in following in the footsteps of his father. I expect great things from him.


Hit the Road (2021) - IMDb

Hit the Road will be screening June 3rd-June 5th, 2022 at the Detroit Film Theater inside the DIA. For more information, please visit