by Afra Nariman
No Bears (2022)
Director: Jafar Panahi
Stars: Jafar Panahi, Naser Hashemi, Bakhtiyar Panjeei, Mina Khosravani, Vahid Mobaser, Mina Kavani, Reza Heydari, Sinan Yusufoglu
Speechless. With each new film, Jafar Panahi expands the boundaries of what cinema can be, and what it can mean. Panahi has put together an unbelievably impressive stretch of consecutive works since his filmmaking-ban was put into effect — and No Bears is right there among his best (my favorite). Every film since the ban has been a defining accomplishment in the medium, and a testament to his unwavering persistence, and to his belief in cinema and search for truth. No Bears is his most complex film to date; one in which he explores many of the curiosities and ideas that his career works have collectively touched upon, reaching a new depth regarding each.
It’s unbelievably saddening that today, Jafar Panahi is being held as a political prisoner in Iran’s ‘Evin Prison’ — a prison notorious for torture and mass executions, where just a couple of weeks ago it was purposefully set on fire, leading to masses of prisoners being killed or severely injured. During that time, Panahi was heavily tear-gassed and abused by prison guards — he explained the experience to his wife, as the worst moments of his life.
Jafar Panahi is among the most talented artists of our generation; one who has consistently challenged his medium’s limitations, redefining what we consider possible with a camera; all while working under the most suppressed and strenuous circumstances imaginable for a filmmaker. Through everything, he has never sacrificed his integrity as an artist, and has never backed down from revealing truths regarding the injustices faced by people in Iran — no matter the risks and personal cost. Jafar Panahi’s films embody why cinema exists, and what it should always aspire to be. He is cinema’s most inspiring artist.
No Bears is an urgent meditation on all the things that have interested Panahi, and those that have haunted him, throughout his career. In some aspects, it might be his most playful film to date; but it’s certainly also his angriest. The level of urgency, pain, and frustration in Panahi’s cinematic voice is evident in almost every frame. He is the subject of all threads in the film, and he expresses his distressful dilemma of constantly feeling trapped inside a society that attempts to act upon him with enforced tradition, accusations, and an overall lack of freedom. The film speaks of borders — both literal and figurative ones, which stand between one’s freedom, and their home/identity. The nighttime scene at the Iran/Turkey border is one of the most affecting scenes I’ve ever seen. In all aspects, No Bears creates fiction from reality, and reality from fiction. They are not merely intertwined here; they are one and the same for Panahi, and every emotion that exudes from the actions depicted in this film — whether the scene is scripted and fictitious, or not — is authentic and genuinely grounded in Panahi’s reality. This is not just a work of fiction, nor documentary — it is something new, even by Panahi’s standards in presenting meta-narratives.
The range of emotions that he captures simultaneously in this film — by asking a variety of questions spanning many interconnected topics, providing some answers, and participating in his own storytelling at such a personal level — makes for a truly special film; one which Panahi’s meta-commentary, via his blend of fiction and reality, is heightened even further than in his past works. No Bears is truly a mystical and endlessly fascinating film that could only have been made by Jafar Panahi. It is yet another masterpiece by one of cinema’s true masters.
I think it appropriate to end my write-up by including the following excerpt; a letter that Panahi wrote very recently while in prison, which was read before the screening of No Bears, at the New York Film Festival:
“We are all filmmakers. We are part of Iranian cinema. For us, to live is to create. We create works that are not commissioned. Therefore, those in power see us as criminals. Independent cinema reflects its own times. It draws inspiration from society. And cannot be indifferent to it.
The history of Iranian cinema witnesses the constant and active presence of independent directors who have struggled to push back censorship and to ensure the survival of this art. While on this path, some were banned from making films, others were forced into exile or reduced to isolation. And yet, the hope of creating again is a reason for existence. No matter where, when, or under what circumstances, an independent filmmaker is either creating or thinking about creation. We are filmmakers, independent ones.” ~ Jafar Panahi
Free Jafar Panahi 💚🤍❤️
MY RATING /5:
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