Iranian film “Hit the Road” simply follows and observes one private journey, but it will surprise you more than once. As closely and intimately focusing on the emotional undercurrents among its four principal characters going through a certain important moment in their family life, the movie doles out one small human moment after another, and I certainly appreciate how these moments culminate to its sublime finale in the end.
The movie opens with its four main characters in the middle of their long journey, and it draws our interest as showing how three of them are quite discreet about their journey for good reasons. One of them is a lad named Farid (Amin Simiar), and he must leave the country as soon as possible for some unspecified cause. His father and mother are certainly willing to help him, and that is why they and Farid are going to a certain remote spot where he will be smuggled across the border as arranged by his father in advance.
Of course, Farid and his parents have to be very careful about this illegal activity, and that is why they are pretending that they are simply enjoying a car travel along with Farid’s little younger brother and a family dog which incidentally does not have much time to live due to some illness. While both Farid and his parents cannot help but become nervous about the possibility of getting caught by the police at any point, Farid’s younger brother is constantly cheerful with his irrepressible spirit without noticing anything from them, and that certainly annoys them from time to time.
Anyway, everything seems to be going well according to their plan, though there come a few setbacks on the road. At one point, they have a little minor accident when they encounter a cyclist doing some competition with other cyclists, and the mood becomes rather awkward as they are taking this cyclist to a nearby spot where he can get some medical treatment. In addition, Farid’s younger brother continues to make one nuisance after another while still quite oblivious to what is going on around him, and that makes his father lose his temper a bit at times.
In contrast, Farid’s mother mostly remains calm and collected right next to Farid, who does not speak much as quietly driving the car as safely as possible for not getting any unnecessary attention. Once he crosses the border, he may be separated from his family forever, and his future beyond the border is quite uncertain to say the least. While understandably anxious and worried inside his mind, he tries to repress his feelings as much as he can, but his mother instinctively senses and understands that, and there is a little tender moment when they share their respective anxieties in private despite not telling that much to each other.
As the journey continues, Farid and his family pass by one wide rural landscape after another, and director/writer/co-producer Panah Panahi, who is the older son of Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, and his cinematographer Amin Jafari vividly present those various landscapes on the screen. Whenever Jafari’s camera looks at the wide background surrounding the main characters, we become more aware of the magnitude of their long journey, and we also come to reflect more on their thoughts and feelings churning beneath the surface.
Nevertheless, the movie seldom loses its sense of humor even during its most serious moments. While we continue to be amused by the perky personality of Farid’s younger brother, we are also touched a lot by how Farid’s gruff father gradually reveals his concerns on his older son as well as his family. When he and Farid come to have a father and son moment in private later in the story, he tells his son that it is okay to express sadness and anxiety in front of him, and that is one of the most touching moments in the film although they still feel the growing gap between them.
Around the narrative point where its main characters are around the end of the journey, the movie sticks to its phlegmatic attitude as distancing itself a bit from the expected melodramatic part of the story. During one crucial scene later in the story, the camera simply observes Farid’s parents and several other people from the distance, but the resulting emotional effect is palpable nonetheless because of what is so diligently developed up to that narrative point.
Furthermore, the movie is supported well by its solid quartet acting from its four main cast members. While Hassan Madjooni and Pantea Panahiha ably function as the emotional center of the story, Amin Simiar holds his own small place well between them, and young performer Rayan Sarla is utterly unforgettable with his unadorned acting full of charm and energy. His character is surely annoying at times, but we cannot help but love his character just like Farid and his parents, and he is absolutely terrific when he is required to take the center around the end of the film.
Overall, “Hit the Road” is seemingly plain but undeniably impressive in its effortless handling of story and characters, and I am willing to watch it again soon for savoring those precious little moments in the film. Although this is his first film, Panahi demonstrates here that he is a talented filmmaker who may have a fruitful filmmaking career in the future just like his father has, and it will be certainly interesting to see what will come from him next.