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.
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The three main characters are all vividly sketched.
Even as Three Faces staggers along, it maintains the unique blend of introspection and intrigue that defines this singular director’s talent.
The director’s characteristic humanism and rejection of easy judgments suffuses the film with sincere empathy – refreshingly, he acknowledges his own role in the entrenched patriarchal culture he’s critiquing, both as a man and film director. As such, when 3 Faces closes on a bittersweet note, the hopeful gesture of its closing image feels neither cheap nor unearned.
Panahi keeps everything as softly spoken as his own onscreen presence and yet some of those quiet observations are devastating.
Jafar Panahi has here created a quietly engaging quasi-realist parable, part of his ongoing and unique creative cine-autobiography, full of intelligence and humility and a real respect for women and for female actors. It is gentle, elusive, and redolent of this director’s mysterious Iranian zen.
Whenever Panahi's architecturally rigorous study of the self, society, and artistic communion threatens to get too self-conscious or loaded, the filmmaker tends to leaven the tension with humor and gentle irreverence.
Although 3 Faces is far from Panahi’s best work, it’s still a solid primer on how much a skilled filmmaker can achieve with very few resources.
Three Faces is typical of the canny director’s output in the way it’s modest but profound, leisurely but urgent, a portrait of a country disguised as a meandering road movie.
3 Faces can sometimes feel like a whimsical doodle without much forward momentum. But that placidness belies a certain degree of melancholic resignation on Panahi’s part, for himself and his homeland.