Review: Iranian women act up in enlightening '3 Faces'

Tom Long
The Detroit News
Marziyeh Rezaei in "3 Faces."

It begins like a Hollywood horror movie.

A distraught aspiring young actress films herself walking through a cave, telling of her pleas to a movie star for help with her career and of her family's disdain for her chosen path. And then she apparently hangs herself.

Watching the recording is Iranian actress Behnaz Jafari (playing herself). She's in the back of a car being driven by the director Jafar Panahi (playing himself). The two are driving to a remote, dusty village where the young actress, Marziyeh Rezael, either lives or recently died.

They've just become aware of the recording and can't tell if the suicide is real or faked. Jafari has abandoned the set of her latest film for the quest, causing an uproar, driven by apparent guilt.

Thus begins Panahi's “3 Faces,” an examination of cultural misogyny and oppression in Iran that's far more enlightening than depressing. The internationally celebrated Panahi is just about in the middle of a 20-year state-imposed ban on filmmaking that he somehow manages to work around, and the subject matter here leaves no doubt as to why the quasi-ban came to be.

With realistic camera work, obviously unschooled actors and an abundance of telling local color, Panahi makes clear how difficult it is to be a woman, much less a woman artist, in Iran. The three faces in the title belong to Jafafri, Rezael and an unseen actress who has retired to a hovel outside the village, shunned by locals for her unseemly profession, yet still intent on her artistic ways. Like Panahi himself.

The subtle wonder here is how Panahi manages to celebrate his culture and country even as he exposes its oppression. In the end, all the faces in “3 Faces” are recognizably, fallibly human.


“3 Faces”


Not rated

Running time: 100 minutes

Iranian director Jafar Panahi and actress Behnaz Jafari play themselves, looking into a girl's supposed suicide in this examination of misogyny and oppression that's fully human. (100 minutes) Tom Long/Special to The Detroit News GRADE: B+