Release Date – 29th July 2022, Cert – 12, Run-time – 1 hour 33 minutes, Director – Panah Panahi
Stuck in a car, on a long journey to an unknown destination, a family put up with each other as they travel across endless, uneven terrain.
For much of the opening 20-25 minutes of writer-director Panah Panahi’s Hit The Road the camera is kept relatively still. Simply sat in a car, watching the family at the heart of the piece as they wind each other up and get wound up by each other. Yet, their movements – particularly the restlessness of the youngest child (a film-stealing Rayan Sarlak) – create plenty to observe within the frame. An energy and dynamic is built up between the central quartet. One which is wonderfully observed and delivered to bring about plenty of laugh-out-loud funny moments, especially from the lively Sarlak. We don’t know how long they’ve been travelling for, we don’t know how far they’ve got left to go. But, what we do gather is it’s been quite some time, and there’s still a fair deal of the way to go, even longer because of the amount of stops they have to make.
Even within the breaks and pauses of the cramped journey, even more so for the tired father (Hasan Majuni), laying in the back of the vehicle with a broken leg, there’s plenty of humour to be found. A chaotic nature of family getting on each others nerves without entirely diving head-first into the pool of ‘hey, recognise this!?’. As the travels across dry, uneven, rocky landscapes continue we begin to learn more about the initial driver and eldest son (Amin Simiar). He’s something of a more dead-pan figure compared to the rest of the family, particularly a quieter figure; responding little to his mother’s (Pantea Panahiha) more cheery nature. As the film begins to dive into the reasons for this family journey it begins to shift away from the style of an out-and-out comedy and into that of something more dramatic.
There’s no denying that the laughs die down. While still slightly present there’s a strong change in tone, coming across in various scenes set outside of the car as the journey takes other forms, paths and stretches. We begin to get quieter scenes of conversation and reflection, particularly between father and son, with a style similar to the observations in the car, but with a more static feel. It’s easy to say that the connection with these moments perhaps isn’t as strong as the louder driving sequences which open the piece. While there’s still a level of interest in what’s unfolding and where things, and indeed the central figures, are going, it perhaps doesn’t quite have the level of amusement and engagement which was built up in the first third where the overall tone is undeniably different.
Even by the end you feel a slight hint that something has been missing. As if there’s more to see after the apparent conclusion, just before the credits begin to roll. Perhaps it seems as if the film has been building to something slightly more. And while what we have been given certainly has some interesting points, largely brought about by the central performances and the overall familial bond and connection they all have – particularly displayed and established in the wonderful opening scenes – the drama simply never feels as engaging as the highly comedic nature of what comes beforehand. However, the piece does manage to not break down, and avoids the feel of aimless wandering, and it’s largely down to the interest and engagement you generally still keep within it throughout the rest of the unfolding events as they try to reach their initially mysterious destination and goal.
There’s a lot to like about the humour and performances within the opening third of Hit The Road, especially a scene-stealing Rayan Sarlak. While the humour dies down in the quieter, more dramatic remainder of the piece there’s enough interest and engagement from the viewer to mostly keep things moving.