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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
Few movie premises are more familiar than a family road trip – and though it may not be immediately clear where the nameless characters in Panah Panahi’s Hit the Road are headed, while we’re riding along with them, it’s easy to feel at home.
This family has enough quirks for a long-running sitcom, but they also seem like real people. Dad (Mohammad Hassan Madjooni) is a surly but harmless middle-aged bear with a broken leg, a bristling beard and a battered-looking nose like Walter Matthau’s. His wife (Pantea Panahiha) is grey-haired and seemingly demure, but doesn’t take long to reveal a playful side.
The scene-stealer is their excitable younger son (Rayan Sarlak) in the back seat, showing off and whinging in the manner of six-year-olds everywhere. At the wheel of the SUV, his adult brother (Amin Simiar) has much less to say, despite the journey apparently being made on his behalf (or perhaps for just that reason).
There’s also the panting family dog, seemingly the one member of the party with nothing to fret about. But this turns out to be deceptive.
In the same way, the whole point of Hit the Road is that this is no ordinary outing, although those who know better strive to pretend otherwise. Unspoken tensions arise and the film builds emotional momentum as it slowly reveals the furtive purpose for their journey. The result is a humanist drama that offers an authentic, raw, and deeply sincere observation of an Iranian family preparing to part with one of their own.
This is Panahi’s first feature, but if you’re thinking you recognise his surname, you’re not wrong. He’s the son of the politically outspoken Iranian director Jafar Panahi (Tehran Taxi), who was banned from filmmaking in 2010, but has defiantly kept working and was back in the news in July 2022 when he was detained by authorities once more.