The Best Movies of the Year: Hit the Road‘s Rare, Blissful StillnessMovies Features best of 2022
Hit the Road contains a feast of show-stopping scenes. There’s a kaleidoscopic burst of magical realist father-son bonding, a dramatic collision in a cycling race, a traumatic goodbye played out in a super-wide shot, dancing and singing, a constant stream of visual jokes, an adorable dog…
…but the best isn’t one of those scenes. This one comes towards the end of Hit the Road, so a brief catch-up for those who haven’t already seen the film:
A father (Hassan Majuni), mother (Pantea Panahiha), their grown son (Amin Similar) and his younger brother (Rayan Sarlak)—all of whom remain unnamed—are on a road trip through Iran. The specifics of the reason behind their journey are ambiguous, but it gradually becomes apparent that the eldest son needs to get out of the country quickly, and his parents have found a way, albeit an expensive and risky one, of making that happen. While the three adult members of the family spend the long car journey weighed down by the knowledge of the separation that’s about to take place, the youngest son—mischievous, feisty, bouncing off the walls with energy—is blissfully unaware.
It’s this incredibly endearing turn from the then-six-year-old Rayan Sarlak that won the most attention across both the movie’s festival and theatrical runs, and understandably so; formidably adorable, with an astonishing sense of comic timing for one so young, he steals every scene he’s in.
But he’s not in this one.
The family has arrived at the place where the oldest son is due to meet the contact who will smuggle him across the border. He departs alone to find the contact, but almost as soon as he does, his mother encourages his father—who’s spent the whole movie on crutches, from an incident that happened before the road trip—to go and help him.
When the father eventually catches up with the son, after limping his way across a stark, dusty landscape, he insists the son—even more agitated than usual—talk with him a while. Though there are others within shouting distance, the mountains that surround them make it seem like they’re the only two people in the world. Neither says it, but it’s quite possible this will be the last proper face-to-face conversation they ever have.
All through Hit the Road, we’ve seen that the father and eldest son are in possession of opposing energies: The former is a languid bear of a man; the latter is slighter, and perpetually contorted with anxiety. Although the father can seem verbally terse, easily telling his children to “shut up” or calling them “numbskulls,” it’s always done with affection. There’s a lovely tenderness to Majuni’s performance, seen often during the many scenes in the car when he lets his tiny, hyperactive child clamber all over him. He may be gruff, but he loves gently.
As father plonks himself down on a rock, son continues to stand, palpating with nervousness. After staring at him for a long time—committing his image to memory, maybe—father gestures with one of his crutches, and insists his son bring him a couple of apples and wash them. He does so, as his father regales him with a metaphorical platitude so knowingly hokey, it elicits a rare smile.
Unlike the half of the family they’ve left behind, neither of these men really know how to face emotions head on, and so writer/director Panah Panahi shows them trying the best they can. Everything the father does during this conversation—whether it be distracting him with trivial arguments, offering sincere advice or outright telling him to relax—is an attempt to make the son calm down. And as they talk further, it becomes clear that the son is just as anxious about what will happen to his family as to himself. “I’m worried about the house that you put up for my bail,” he says, and indeed their fate after he has fled the country seems terrifyingly fragile.
Again and again the patriarch deflects this fear, leading to an amusing interlude where the men seem to lose the thread of the conversation altogether. By that point though, the unspoken message is clear: This is not a burden the father will allow his son to bear.
Then, the parent-child roles are reversed. Father exclaims from a toothache and son, assuming he’s exaggerating—throughout the film, doubt has been cast on the necessity of him still using crutches—waves off his shout. Father insists the pain is real; son looks in his mouth and sees that the tooth in question is “in bad shape.” He insists his father go to a dentist when back in Tehran, and stop venting to his mother about it. Somewhat sullenly, his dad agrees.
“Good boy,” his progeny commends, with another little smile.
Hit the Road is full of lively, memorable moments, but there’s so much going on in even the more unassuming sequences, like this one—perhaps the film’s longest period of stillness. Panahi embraces easy silences, and the way they illustrate the nourishing comfort of family. The tension of the whole situation is still very apparent, but this conversation is a brief oasis. You can feel it settling in the memories of both men, a well to be drawn from during the tough times ahead. It’s a small wonder of a scene, nestled within an enormously rich and magical movie.
“It’s been a long time since we talked like this… I appreciate your support,” the son says, sincerely, at the end of their chat. He looks so much calmer now.
And how else could the father really reply?
Chloe Walker is a writer based in the UK. You can read her work at Culturefly, the BFI, Podcast Review, and Paste.