Jafar Panahi defies censorship and political persecution with a devastating exploration of creative, individual and geographical boundaries.
Panahi, an outspoken Iranian filmmaker, has produced a body of work that, like many of his peers, has found ways to circumnavigate oppressive government strictures to explore life in his country. Since 2010 he has been placed under various forms of arrest and detention. No Bears marks his fifth feature since he was banned from making films. It retains the playfulness that has become a staple of his work, but also has a gravity that underpins the devastating consequences of living in a coercive society.
The film begins with Panahi letting a house in a small village close to the Turkish border. Unable to leave the country, it’s from there that he remotely directs a film crew in Turkey tell the story of a couple seeking to migrate to Europe in search of better opportunities. But that’s just the film within the film. In truth, the actors are themselves seeking a way to leave Turkey. At the same time, Panahi becomes embroiled in a local dispute, with villagers believing he has captured on his camera an illicit liaison between a man and a woman who has been betrothed, against her will, to someone else.
A director attuned to the complexity of the filmmaking process, Panahi skilfully weaves together these narrative strands, while offering a critique of his own culpability as an artist. From the get-go, with the stunning what-you-are-seeing-is-not-what-you’re-seeing opening, Panahi draws us into this world. But this time, his denouement makes clear the grave consequences that so many people face in their lives.