LFF 2021 film review: Hit the Road
Cathy Brennan | On 17, Oct 2021
Director: Panah Panahi
Cast: Hassan Madjooni, Pantea Panahiha, Rayan Sarlak
Where to watch Hit the Road online in the UK: London Film Festival
Hit the Road streamed online at the 2021 London Film Festival. Find out more about how the festival works and what’s playing online here.
Family road trips are normally foreboding affairs, but there’s an extra layer of dread in Panah Panahi’s debut feature, Hit the Road. The film sees an unconventional family of four en route to a destination none of them are relishing, and there’s an ongoing mystery as to what the end might look like. Unfortunately, this does not translate into compelling cinema as irritation often overcomes intrigue.
As the son of acclaimed Iranian director Jafar Panahi, there is a burden of expectation in Panah’s first outing. Like his father’s 2015 film, Taxi, the confines of a vehicle make for a space in which relationships are navigated through uncomfortable clambering. Characters are referred to by their familial role rather than by name. In the front there is the mum (Pantea Panahiha) who struggles to hide her sorrow over the fate of her solemn adult son (Amin similar) in the driver’s seat. Meanwhile, in the back is the enfeebled patriarch (Hasan Majuni), whose leg is in a cast, and the rambunctious younger son (Rayan Sarlak).
A determining factor on your potential enjoyment of Hit the Road rests on your tolerance for precocious child performances. For this critic, such fortitude is lacking as Salark’s character is deeply annoying. He’s meant to represent an energetic innocence compared to the elder characters. A narrative thread that runs through the film is that the rest of the family are hiding from the boy that their dog, Jessy, is on the verge of death. However, because the kid is more grating than endearing, much of the emotional power from this dynamic is lost. The cheek that Salark brings to his character unintentionally makes the performance reminiscent of the tween demon in Jonah Hill’s music video for Ain’t it Funny by Danny Brown.
There’s a quirky sense of humour that the film tries to convey, primarily through the younger son. An early example of this is when he requires a phone to contact a girl despite being barely 10 years old. However, the humour and emotional power of the film is most keenly felt in Panahiha’s performance as the mother. Much of the film’s eccentricities feel overblown and tacked on to the otherwise melancholy vibe, but her comedic moments have a genuine spark to them. For instance, she sometimes makes idle threats to her children that seem extreme on paper – “Stay still or I’ll cut you to pieces…” – yet they’re casually thrown out in such a deadpan way that you can’t help but chuckle. As things take a turn towards the dramatic at the end, it is Panahiha who is responsible for the film’s most moving moments.
As it is, one strong performance is not enough to salvage Hit the Road, as the cryptic plotting is undermined by a largely misplaced dash of quirkiness. Even so, the young Panahi demonstrates an eye for the idiosyncratic that holds promise for any future projects he has in store.
Hit the Road will be released in the UK by Picturehouse in 2022.