The 2021 festival circuit was very kind to the Iranian film, “Hit the Road.” Sometimes, not in every case, it’s always hard for the film to meet and/or surpass the expectations, especially months in advance before its release. Luckily, Panah Panahi’s directorial debut is an amazing drama that will make you question whether or not this was truly a directorial debut. It’s just that good, and hopefully, families will hit the road and go to their nearest theater to check it out.
Despite being a directorial debut, Panahi displays a great understanding of not just the art of directing but conveying real emotions. A lot of the powerful moments of “Hit the Road” come from things that aren’t shown. Throughout the brisk 97-minute runtime, we, the audience, are slowly given hints about the troubles the family members are going through. We’re told as much as Panahi wants us to know, and you won’t be able to not continue on to keep learning more.
And even still, Panahi’s blocking in “Hit the Road” is incredible. There are a handful of scenes where Panahi lets the viewers bask in a wide shot of a landscape. It could be a wide shot in the desert where you see the family doing whatever it is they are doing at that moment. Their dialogue may play overtop of the shots, but it makes it feel authentic; almost as if you’re right there with the family. These shots are also astonishing; they almost look too good to be true.
Pantea Panahiha carries much of the emotional weight of the film. There’s heartbreak beneath the strong facade that she attempts to uphold (the things mothers do for children). Meanwhile, Farid (Amin Simiar), has his own laundry list of things going on. As the oldest child myself, the way that his father (Hasan Majuni) micromanages and constant criticism of his driving (amongst many other things) is more than relatable. Farid also doesn’t want to continue to be treated like a child, running away from the affection of his mother. His father, however, is rather cold and a juxtaposition of his mother. Like most fathers, Farid’s father does show that he loves his children, but he’s about as concerned about scratching the rental car as he is concerned about his youngest’s whereabouts.
Then you have the younger brother, played by Rayan Sarlak. The rambunxious child is still “coming-of-age” and is naive to the adult reality. “Hit the Road” has a “Belfast”-like quality as a result. In “Belfast,” the Troubles are going on while we mainly focus on Buddy’s (Jude Hill) story. The Troubles are like the backdrop while Buddy is viewing it through the lens of a small child. Rayan Sarlak’s character is being shielded from the real family drama; family conversations between the eldest three sound as if they are walking on eggshells. Be that as it may, Sarlak is an adorable performer that gives the most memorable in the film. His innocence shines through the screen, whether it’s when he talks about his “girlfriend” or the way he adores his dog, and he is further recent proof of just how good young actors can be joining the aforementioned Hill, Woody Norman, the Sanz sisters, among many others.
Even if your family isn’t taking the same type of road trip that the family in “Hit the Road” is, it offers something to everyone. If you want a family drama, you have it. If you want a road trip movie, you also have it. If you just want a dazzling directorial debut that is charming, poignant and crafted as if this is Panahi’s 10th feature film, you have that as well. “Hit the Road” is one of the best films to hit the silver screen this year, and should not be missed as it makes its way around the country.
Kino Lorber will release “Hit the Road” in Philadelphia on April 29.