No Bears (2022)

You would expect no less than a meta-filmic experience from Panahi where he slyly—and sometimes angrily—comments on the shackles of traditions and laws in relation to freedom, but for once he overreaches with his creative approach. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,535

Dir. Jafar Panahi
2022 | Iran | Drama | 106 mins | 1.85:1 | Persian & Azerbaijani
PG (passed clean)

Cast: Jafar Panahi, Naser Hashemi, Vahid Mobasheri
Plot: Panahi plays himself, a filmmaker trying to direct a cast and crew in Turkey, who is forced to remain in an Iranian village close to the border. As his actors perform their own story of an attempted escape to Europe, Panahi finds himself unwittingly coming up against suspicion and local traditions.
Awards: Won Special Jury Prize & Nom. for Golden Lion (Venice)
International Sales: Celluloid Dreams

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Artistic Freedom; Laws & Traditions
Narrative Style: Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: Carnival Cinemas – Singapore International Film Festival
Spoilers: No

I have to admit that I was slightly underwhelmed by Jafar Panahi’s latest, No Bears, which won a Special Jury Award at Venice.  But still, any film by him is a gift to cinephiles as he tries to defeat the iron grip the Iranian government has on him through art and culture. 

No Bears could be his most complex work in a long time—it is a film where one can see an artist’s construction of fiction and reality as it is constructed

In that regard, you would expect no less than a pure meta-filmic experience as Panahi juggles two main narrative threads: one sees him temporarily staying in a rural village as he directs a film remotely (killing two birds with one stone essentially as he navigates the ban on filmmaking and Covid times), though not without encountering a major problem in the said village that he inadvertently caused. 

The other thread is the film that he is directing as we enter both the worlds of the ‘characters’ and the ‘actors’, who may or may not be playing themselves. 

“Did you go to the border last night?”

No Bears requires patience to unpack its various layers whilst posing us the question: if a drama hits too close to reality, does it then become a documentary?  Or seeing it another way: can real life be as dramatic as fiction? 

It is a highly-deceptive film that may prove to be either rewarding or an overreaching attempt with his creative approach, where Panahi stars in his own movie about himself directing a movie about seemingly real-life people. I’m not entirely convinced by No Bears but I can feel that this might be the director’s angriest film to date. 

As he comments on the shackles of traditions, laws and self-appointed authority, the film features one of the most indelible moments in his oeuvre—asked to swear on the Qur’an to tell the truth, Panahi instead proposes to record his testimony on the other religious artefact he has always had faith in: the camera. 

Grade: B


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