3 Faces is the fourth film Jafar Panahi has made since since 2010, when Iranian authorities slapped him with a twenty-year ban on filmmaking and traveling out of the country. This Is Not a Film, smuggled out of Iran in a cake, premiered at Cannes in 2011, and both Closed Curtain (2013) and Taxi (2015) screened in Berlin, the latter winning the Golden Bear. At Saturday night’s premiere of 3 Faces, Cannes kept a seat marked with his name open and empty.
So far, critical reception of the new film has been positive, albeit rather reservedly so. “Deceptively slight, like much of his recent work,” writes Screen’s Tim Grierson, “this modest drama slowly segues from a low-key mystery to a casual survey of how women—especially actresses—have been demonized by their countrymen.”
The inciting event of 3 Faces is an urgent phone message from a teenage girl (Marziyeh Rezaei) sent to Panahi and Iranian actress Behnaz Jafari, both notably playing themselves. As A. A. Dowd notes at the A.V. Club, “Panahi has frequently blurred the line between cinema and reality; here, he builds the search for that line into the work itself, even flirting, playfully, with a self-critique. Is there something untruthful and manipulative about staging fiction to look like nonfiction?”
In contrast to the enclosed spaces of the three previous films Panahi has made since the ban, the “spatial freedom afforded in 3 Faces seems to inspire the most playful and sophisticated filmmaking in a Panahi film since 2006’s Offside,” writes Sam C. Mac at the House Next Door, “and the way that Panahi introduces the details of his narrative with extended sequences of two characters driving together, make 3 Faces feel like a deliberate tribute to 1992’s Life, and Nothing More, which was directed by Panahi’s own mentor and collaborator, Abbas Kiarostami. But as Panahi’s film progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that 3 Faces has been conceived as a more expansive homage and eulogy for the late Kiarostami.”
The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw spots specific references to Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry and The Wind Will Carry Us, and adds that 3 Faces also “appears to be reaching back twenty years or so to an earlier kind of classic Iranian cinema, from a time when filmic language needed to be more encoded.”