A Look at Jafar Panahi’s ‘The Mirror’ (1997)

The Mirror is an Iranian film by imprisoned director Jafar Panahi which tells the story of a little girl merely trying to find her way home. The story is set after school on a weekday in which the girl’s mother does not show up for her. Distressed and a bit frightened, the girl tries to find the way home by herself, eventually getting lost through incorrect busses and trying to find her way through traffic. The audience is on this journey with her for about forty minutes into the film, when an abrupt change occurs. As she seems to have finally found a nice and caring bus driver who is willing to take her to her destination, the film unravels itself. The little girl, actress Mina Mohammad Khani, becomes fed up with the entire film crew after a few remarks are said by an actor playing a position on the bus. She no longer wants to act. The filming is discontinued and we are left viewing the forthcoming action through the lens of another camera, most likely a camera by one of the crew members to capture documentary footage. Mina is set on quitting the film and decides to go home by herself. Panahi decides to film her without her consent. They use the original cinematographer to capture her travelling from one part of the city, to the next, ironically completing the film.

The Mirror, in its latter part, seems to turn into a cinéma vérité experience where the title suggests a parallel in plot construction. Unknowingly, when Mina decides to quit the picture, by abandoning the initial premise, she surprisingly finishes the film in a perhaps quicker and less painful way than would have been done so otherwise. Jafar Panahi is an Iranian filmmaker whose pictures always seem to concentrate on Iranian life in one aspect or another. The difference this film brings in the presence of his filmography has to do with the perspective. We are now viewing Iranian culture through the eyes of a young girl, lost and abandoned in a large society of adults with places to go and not enough time for a first grader trying to find her way back home. There is a delightful scene towards the end of the picture where Mina confronts a cast member from a previous bus scene, an elderly lady who complains of her troubles and sufferings. Mina seems to want to discuss the annoyance of having to follow the script and having to say predetermined lines. However, the elderly lady does not acknowledge any screenplay nor any given lines. Her troubles and sufferings told on screen are from her actual life, and all she was asked to do was show up on the bus and sit down. Mina is baffled, thus, showing a side to film she has most likely never seen before. This picture is as much about film as it is about the little girl in the film. We are given a first ticket ride to how the boundaries and barriers of reality and fiction are actually extremely blurred lines, and that cinema is here to tell truths, not lies.

Thank you for reading,

Omar Antonio Iturriaga