Panah Panahi’s Debut Feature is a Sublime Journey of Family, Freedom, and lack Thereof.



The whys and whens of the end goal of writer/director by Panah Panahi’s never-not-wonderfully-engaging Hit the Road (Jadde Khaki) are probably not quite enough to, say, land the filmmaker in prison.  But he’d best watch his back just in case.  Tragically, Panahi’s father, the celebrated film director Jafar Panahi, was arrested and imprisoned in July of 2022.  This following over a decade of house arrest over political offenses taken in his previous films.  The senior Panahi, however, was never one to simply sit back and take it.  Though officially banned from filmmaking, in the time of his sentence he made six features, including 2018’s 3 Faces, in which he audaciously got in a car and hit the road.  Like father, like son.

The world over, long car trips with the family aren’t exactly pleasant repose.  Beyond whatever usual friction exists, the small, unnamed family at the center of Hit the Road bears the added burdens of an aging father (Hassan Madjooni) with his leg in a cast and a ferociously never still, never quiet, ball of energy young son (Rayan Sarlak) along for the ride.  That’s just the back seat.  Up front are two different bundles of nerves, the in-charge mother (Pantea Panahiha) and the older son and driver of the vehicle, Farid (Amin Simiar).  Although the exact details why they’re making this trek across the compellingly desolate Iranian desert aren’t ever clear, we gather that this is not occurring under good circumstances.  In time, all we know is that the goal is to get Farid smuggled across the Turkish border.  No cell phones, hopefully no checkpoints.

As with all things, though, it’s the journey, not the destination, that defines the trip.  The scenery out the car’s windows is far short of inviting, yet the way Panahi photographs it, it bears consistent wonder.  Along the way, certain conversations take us even further from this sunbaked stretch of nowhere.  A rumination on the greatness of 2001: A Space Odyssey gives way to a modestly rendered but nevertheless charming space interlude.  The kid (apparently in real life as well) has a lot to say about Batman Begins.  They happen upon a bicycle race and end up giving one of the weirder riders a lift.  A slapstick sensibility rears its head in unexpected moments, though the vague tension remains consistent.  And uh-oh… is someone violating security protocol by keeping a secret cell phone??

Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray issuing of Hit the Road does the film fine justice in terms of sight and sound, though extra features are nonexistent.  This is rather unfortunate, as at least some contextualizing is always ideal, particularly when it comes to exceptional films such as this one.  Hit the Road succeeds at being something of a crowd-pleaser without any degree of pandering.  Some may feel a bit of frustration with the lack of information given about the why and wheres of this voyage, but in time, enough is made clear.  But despite the sunny, intriguing and never-ending terrain all around, a long car ride with high-maintenance family members may sound like a prison all its own.  Yet, Hit the Road serves as a reminder that, despite its many trappings, family can be the most freeing thing in this crazy world.