The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema] - NO BEARS | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Cinema] - NO BEARS

no bears review
While remotely directing a film across the Iran/Turkey border, Jafar Panahi finds himself caught in a small village's scandal.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Jafar Panahi

Starring: Jafar Panahi, Naser Hashemi, Vahid Mobasri, Bakhtiar Panjei, Mina Khosravani

no bears poster

Like the recent Return to Dust, Jafar Panahi’s No Bears is another auteur driven product where the reception of the film, and any ensuing discourse, threatens to be overwhelmed by the film’s oppressive context. In the case of No Bears, however, the link between the film, its inhibited production and how audiences will acknowledge Panahi’s narratives, is a deliberately explicated and essential aspect of its ideology. No Bears opens upon a daytime Tehran street, replete with an eyebrow raising bricolage of Middle Eastern signifiers: a steaming tureen, al fresco cafes and a fella actually playing a kaval. The chromatic mise-en-scene betrays the opening’s thrillery genre situation, as it focuses on Zara (Mina Kavani), given a stolen passport by her fella, which will allow her to flee to Europe. Except Zara doesn’t want to leave without him...

no bears review

And  then, ‘CUT!’, we transition abruptly to the home editing studio of film director Jafar Panahi (played by film director Jafar Panahi), who is orchestrating the drama via remote technology. Oh, Jafar! You had us! This New-Wavey opening not only establishes No Bears’ dual narratives - Zara and Bakhtiar’s struggles and Panahi’s coextending telling of the story as he gets accidentally involved with a social transgression in his hideaway village - but establishes No Bears’ alluring tone, too, wherein the most serious of matters are treated with a winning lightness of touch. As of July this year, the real life Panahi was arrested and jailed, for six years, under a 2010 conviction of "assembly and colluding with the intention to commit crimes against the country’s national security and propaganda against the Islamic Republic." The sentence also entailed a 20-year ban on making or directing any movies, writing screenplays, giving interviews to media, or leaving Iran - since the conviction, Panahi has contributed undeterred to 10 film projects. No Bears was filmed guerrilla style and in secret. You’ve got to give it to him.

no bears review

Like the real life Panahi, No Bears finds the filmmaker in exile, and parallels the ramifications of his persecution. In contrast to the life/death situation his characters face (or are they characters? The film within a film is presented with a lightheaded blending of documentary and narrative cinema; are the cameras capturing events or creating them? Does it matter?), Panahi finds himself embroiled in a low-key village antagonism involving a love triangle involving two men and a woman: one man betrothed to her at birth, as per local custom, while the other is the fella whom she is actually in love with. The patriarchal leaders of the village believe, on the account of a snot-nosed kid, that Panahi has photographed the two lovers, and demand his footage and his testimony. As if, The Patriarchy. In film, as irl, Panahi is not for turning.

The focus on this minor social more, magnified by archaic and wilful bureaucratic inference, uncovers, through the scrutiny of exposure, the absurdity of the process. Throughout, Panahi is an equable figure, more bemused than threatened by the proceedings. Likewise, his film-within-a-film encroaches upon farce, where certain figures won’t face the lens,  and other times the scene holds on waiting characters while their counterparts get a safe distance from being on camera. All the while we get the sense of life, lovely life with lovely people - the woman with a cat whom Panahi befriends, the glittering lights of just faraway Tehran - carrying on. Restrictions are man-made, the film breezily implies, with arbitrary, archaic limitations imposed only by certain governments.

no bears review

Life carries on, that is, until it doesn’t, and the devastating conclusions of both women’s choices eventually come to pass. Panahi’s good cheer and the warmth of No Bears’ storytelling can only carry its plot implications so far before crushing reality bears down. We end with a haunting image of frustration and entrapment.

If you feel strongly about the detainment of Panahi, and fellow Iranian filmmakers Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Aleahmad, then there is a petition to protest their arrest here.

No Bears is in UK/ROI cinemas from November 11th.

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