Hit the Road

Hit the Road ★★★★

For a while, Hit the Road plays like Waiting for Godot on the road, as an Iranian family of four (and their ailing dog) embark on a vague, uncertain driving trip, engaging in teasing bouts of nonsense dialogue along the way. It’s meandering and oddly amusing—depending on your own mileage when it comes to precociously naughty child performances, which is what we get from Rayan Sarlak as the family’s terrorizing younger son. Eventually, though, it becomes clear that the older son (Amin Simiar) is being taken to the border by his parents (Hassan Madjooni and Pantea Panahiha) so he can surreptitiously escape the country. It’s a sad reality the family tries to belie with their tough humor, but one that places an increasingly heavy existential weight on everyone, even the dog. Hit the Road is the feature debut of writer-director Panah Panahi, the son of revered—and censored, by the Iranian government, to the point of house arrest—filmmaker Jafar Panahi (The Mirror, Offside). Already, the younger Panahi has a firm command of the (largely) fixed camera; an eye for incorporating dramatic landscapes into the mise en scene (the family’s goodbye, a long shot against drifting clouds, is a heartbreaking stunner); a penchant for stylistic flourishes (including a magical flight into the stars); and an affinity for performance. Little Sarlak will likely get the most attention, but I found Panahiha, as the mother, to be far more affecting. There’s a crushing moment near the end where she tries to put on a cheery demeanor and join her husband and younger son while singing along to the radio, but is in combat with the sorrow in her heart. In a movie that’s veiled and discursive in many ways, Panahiha’s face functions as a detailed emotional map.