AKA: Se Rokh, Trois Visages
Year Released: 2018
Distributor: Kino Lorber
Running Time: 100 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG-13
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Taxi (Jafar Panahi film), Taste of Cherry, 13 Reasons Why, Who’s Camus Anyway?, Closed Curtain, Close-Up, Ten
-WARNING! There’s a major spoiler mentioned in this review. Reader discretion is advised.
-3 Faces is the first Jafar Panahi film to be bilingual. In addition to the dialogue in Farsi/Persian given the geography, there’s even Azerbaijani used as a major language because it was filmed near the Iran/Azerbaijan border. Also, Panahi is of Azerbaijani descent and grew up speaking the language with his family growing up in Mianeh.
-Jafar Panahi’s co-star is the actress Benhaz Jafai who plays herself in this film. She’s a very well-known celebrity in Iran that has appeared in several movies and TV shows. Some of Jafari’s other works consist of Tehran: City of Love, A Respected Family, and Blackboards. This is also the 2nd review I’ve written involving her because she was one of the over hundred actresses in Abbas Kiarostami’s Shirin film. One of her biggest accolades was winning a Crystal Simorgh (the Iranian equivalent of an Oscar) for Best Supporting Actress in A House Built on Water. Just so you know, a simorgh is the same giant mythical bird in Western Asian mythology that was also seen in the animated film Azur & Asmar.
-3 Faces won the Best Screenplay Award at the Cannes Film Festival which would make it Jafar Panahi’s 4th Cannes win after The White Balloon, Crimson Gold, and This Is Not a Film.
-Director Bonus: One conversation has Benhaz Jafari asking Jafar Panahi about a screenplay idea involving a suicide plot. This could be a dual reference to Closed Curtain (saying nothing about how incredibly depressed Panahi was making that movie) as well as This Is Not a Film where he talks about different movie ideas during his house arrest.
-3 Faces was shot in secret given what went down with his previous house arrest. They filmed it near his birthplace and rented a house in the Iranian countryside. Surprisingly, he and his crew weren’t caught during the production of this movie.
Long time no see, Jafar Panahi! It has been quite a while since I have reviewed anything from you. Panahi, you certainly didn’t deserve to have your works sabotaged and censored especially since your movies aren’t offensive. I gave a spot in my Top 7 Movies and Series that were Banned and/or Sabotaged for Stupid Reasons list for Offside even though anyone who knows anything about your filmography could make a strong argument about putting other works on that same list (mainly your later films in your portfolio so far). You have the honor of being the first director of a live-action film (or any movie in general) to get a full 10/10 from me for Taxi and that was the 2nd thing ever after Haibane Renmei to get my highest score. It feels like a millennium has gone by without watching any of your works, so I thought anytime would be as good a time as any to watch your movies as I try to deal with the insanity that is 2020 by checking out your most recent film.
Will this fourth-wall breaking road movie be another quality addition to this Iranian auteur’s work? Let’s take a ride down this cinematic road and find out.
3 Faces is about a tragic mystery that occurred in the Iranian countryside. There’s a college girl named Marziyeh who’s studying to be an actress and entertainer. She is distraught with tears despite making it at a major conservatory in Tehran because she has an ultra-conservative family who despises her goals to make it in the movie industry. Marziyeh films herself with a smartphone (in a vertical video, no less) detailing her sorrows while begging for attention from the country’s A-list actress Benhaz Jafari who was her biggest inspiration. As she films her vlog in a local cave, it’s revealed to have a piece of wood with a noose wrapped around it. She claims that she can’t take the pressure from her family and hometown anymore, so she hangs herself on camera. The video makes it’s way to Benhaz who happens to be traveling with director Jafar Panahi. She feels compelled to find out what’s going on, so the two of them drive from Tehran all the way to Marziyeh’s hometown near the border. These two people in the movie industry arrive in the village and try to get answers from everyone as to why Marziyeh would kill herself assuming if the video wasn’t a work, to begin with (Benhaz frequently asks Jafar about the possibility of being edited stealthily given his filmmaking background). As they spend time in the village, they find some unexpected answers to the whole situation and find out Marziyeh’s reputation might not be the most pristine.
I expected this movie to deliver and it did in many ways. The production was well-done even though it uses Panahi’s trademark neorealism penchant. The mix between smartphone footage as well as professional cameras was great in it’s no-frills approach. While it was no Offside from a cinematography perspective, 3 Faces was creative with the long takes, tasteful usage of close-ups, and revolving cameras around the SUV in multiple scenes. I did enjoy the camera work in this one. Jafari playing a fictionalized version of herself was quite fascinating. I’m not familiar with her work besides seeing her reactions in Shirin, but I can tell she’s talented at what she does. She still feels like a real person with how she’d react to certain situations and even leaning into being a humble celebrity like signing autographs for kids or talking with fans. One scene involves someone at a local restaurant letting her get stuff for free even though she was more than willing to pay for everything. That was certainly a nice touch since she could’ve been some insufferable diva given her notoriety in Iran. The people in the village did play an interesting role. Sure, the girls and children idolize Jafari, but the older men have been very set in their ways by not having anyone do anything involving the arts except for a select few people. There’s a superstitious aspect to the village with people believing that people who go into entertainment get cursed like a local actress who died alone or how one of the men believes in rituals to make sure a boy can become a very manly man (more on that later) that confuses both the actress and the director. The Marziyeh character also important in her own right. The opening video feels so real with the smartphone footage while pleading about her sadness. I don’t think she’s a professional actor, but she did a great job playing that character in the movie especially when it comes to the plot twists. This was certainly a creative story that blurs between fiction and reality.
3 Faces could use some improvements here and there. As much as I respect Jafar Panahi as a filmmaker and he did a great job from a directorial as well as a cinematography standpoint, his character is nonexistent. That’s a shame because when he played himself in Closed Curtain as well as Taxi, he at least had a personality that one could pick up on (especially the former where that depression was REAL), but in 3 Faces he’s more of an observer who just happens to be there for the ride. One can certainly make the argument that he wanted Jafari to shine since she has more agency as the main character as well as the other women which I certainly respect since the positive female characterization is a key component of multiple films of his, but he doesn’t have much of a presence here. While the camera work was good, I did notice some aliasing in a few scenes when I watched the DVD. There was one glaring error in the subtitles that made me shake my head. When it comes to the parts of the movie where there’s no Persian being spoken, they insist on speaking “Turkish”. No, that language is Azerbaijani and it even says so on the back of the DVD cover as well as my online research. Yes, Azerbaijani is in the Turkic family of languages and there’s similar words, but it’s the same thing as calling Spanish dialogue Italian or Portuguese. Are there similar words and grammatical elements? Yes, but they are still separate tongues. That was a rookie mistake on Kino Lorber’s part. Going back to the opening scene with the video that sets up the whole mystery, there was certainly a major flaw from a storytelling standpoint. SPOILER ALERT! It was faked! I won’t get into how or why this all happened in the plot, but I somehow knew this would be the main plot twist once Jafari reviewed the footage and asked Panahi if it was staged or at least adeptly edited where it looked real. Marziyeh gets called out by Jafari for doing this (rightfully so), but I felt like the college student got off way easy because the next time she sees her favorite actress, she seems to have easily forgiven her almost like nothing ever happened. The characterization does improve after that, but that part of the movie felt awkwardly written. Speaking of awkward moments, remember how I said the town has superstitious? One of the older men who actually doesn’t hate movies after being inspired by a certain actor has a belief that baby boys will have good lives if the parent (I wish I was making this up) keeps their severed foreskins and wraps them up. It gets even weirder when this man even gives his son’s wrapped up foreskin to Jafari to take back to Tehran which made me facepalm. I’m sorry, but what in the name of all that is holy would a man give a post-circumcised piece of flesh to a woman like a good luck charm or a present? That is so creepy and very disturbing even by superstition standards. It made absolutely no sense other than some bizarre “worldbuilding” if you will regardless if it’s a real tradition or not in that part of Iran.
The latest release from Jafar Panahi was another quality work from the esteemed director. That neorealism aspect certainly shines and the story is very original. The actors here really felt like people and most of them acted very realistically. However, there was an obvious plot twist and some moments that were too bizarre for this film. 3 Faces is not Taxi, but certainly better than so many movies coming out recently, especially in the emerging ghost town called Hollywood. I’d certainly watch this any day over that 2020 live action Mulan remake. Also, why is the movie industry getting a bailout? Seriously?! I can think of so many other sectors that need that money and this is coming from a film critic and…
Okay, that was a weird tangent. You should still watch this movie though.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1-2 points if you’re a Jafar Panahi fan.
Subtract 1-2 points if you like high-budget films.
-Masterful neorealism camera work
-Unique storytelling and 4th wall elements
-Jafar Panahi (the character, not the director proper) is just an observer
-The plot twist with the suicide was obvious
-The foreskin subplot. WHY?!?
Final Score: 8/10 points
Content Warning: 3 Faces should be okay for teens and up. The suicide video is quite unnerving and happens in the beginning. There’s some strong language sprinkled in a few parts and there’s the weird subplot of the older man giving a gift-wrapped foreskin to Benhaz Jafari.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. 3 Faces is property of Kino Lorber. The DVD cover is from Kino Lorber and is property of Kino Lorber.