“Interior problems, exterior problems, problems because of the occupation—at eight o’clock it’s Laila’s birthday,” says Laila’s mother to Laila’s father (Bakri). Of course, all of the above will threaten the family’s chance at a joyous celebration. The father is a former judge who’s come to the Palestinian-occupied territories out of a sense of moral duty; he now reluctantly works as a cab driver, albeit the sort of cab driver who can’t tell his fare to stop smoking without adding that it’s illegal to smoke in public places. (Because he used to be a judge, natch.) Bureaucracy, lost cell phones, violence, car theft and pedestrians in street traffic—all will get in the way of our protagonist’s journey home to his daughter, whose picture is mounted on his dashboard.
From Scorsese to Kiarostami, the taxi driver–as–mirror of society motif has enjoyed a rich tradition in cinema, but generally with more expressive purpose and subtlety than can be found here. The movie actually climaxes with Laila’s father picking up a microphone and lecturing bystanders—an outburst that hasn’t been built up by a consistent narrative flow. The character too often comes across as a mouthpiece for his writer-director; it would have been more effective to tease at the implications of his dilemmas instead of simply sounding off.