Hit the Road. 2022
Written and Directed by Panah Panahi.
Starring Hassan Madjooni, Pantea Panahiha, Rayan Sarlak, and Amin Simiar.
A chaotic family is on a road trip across a rugged landscape. In the back seat, Dad has a broken leg, Mom tries to laugh when she’s not holding back tears, and the youngest keeps exploding into car karaoke. Only the older brother is quiet.
The synopsis for Hit the Road is intentionally a bit misleading, as is the opening act or so itself, painting the proceedings as your standard nightmarish road comedy. For starters, there’s a hyperactive child in the back seat referred to as Little Brother (a finely tuned mixture of cute and, by the end, shattered innocence as performed by Rayan Sarlak in a charming debut role), first seen obsessing over a cell phone that his parents not only curiously told him not to bring, but are quick to remove the sim card and toss it on the side of the desert road once discovering its presence.
It’s the first of many deceptive acts from Dad and Mom (Hasan Majuni and Pantea Panahiha, respectively), who also fib regarding the family dog’s health. Dad is also on crutches, suffering from a broken foot, while Mom appears desperately trying to hold her emotions together. The driver seat is commandeered by tacit Big Brother (Amin Simiar, terrific at silently expressing the uncertainty and stress of the situation), pretty much the polar opposite personality of his younger brother.
Scene by scene, droplets of information regarding the truth of this road trip as this family heads from Tehran to the border. The details are never fully penciled in, but it doesn’t necessarily matter. Injured cyclists are picked up off the street, strangers are met for cryptic directions, and characters vaguely talk about the issue at hand; some of it feels like filler, other parts endear us to the family further, regardless of what trouble they are in.
Hit the Road is the debut film from Panah Panahi (the son of celebrated Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi), so you can expect that all of this is building towards a devastating societal and political point, often lensed with striking landscape photography from Amin Jafari juxtaposing beauty with tragedy. However, what makes this quietly powerful flick truly impressionable is not just the humorous shenanigans peppered throughout from the young boy and how he is protected from the harsh reality of what is happening, which leads them to make Batman parallels, but how they bring laughter to his parents (again, the older brother has more pressing matters on his mind, although his brother is told that he is on his way to get married). This is a balancing act of comedy and drama, but the purpose of the humor, and every joke, is to hold this family upright and keep them from cracking and falling apart emotionally. It’s as if every time they laugh could be the last time they get to as a unified family.
Panah Panahi counters these antics with extended sequences of dialogue, observing these characters, and their surroundings, again, seemingly afraid to break away from any given scene as it could be the last moment certain characters spend together for a while. In one instance, the direction after something artsier in the realm of space exploration, making for a stunningly moving segment.
Admittedly, sometimes long, drawn-out scenes cause Hit the Road to meander occasionally, and there might be one too many musical montages to convey character feelings, but the emotional punch continues to build. It’s a slow burn that remains compelling due to many stunning shot compositions and a successful juggling of human drama and laughs.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com