“No Bears” is Iranian director Jafar Panahi’s latest film. Panahi has been a thorn in the side of the Iranian regime for years and is prohibited from leaving Iran. He has previously been arrested, charged, placed under house arrest and prohibited from making films. “No Bears” was filmed secretly in Iran. In “No Bears” Jafar Panahi weaves an intricate film innocent and amusing on one hand yet threatening and frightening to an increasing degree as the film progresses.
Panahi plays himself as a director in a village called Jaban proximate to the Turkish border. Since he is prohibited from leaving Iran he must direct the film being shot in Turkey remotely. It appears as if the film being filmed in Turkey is a documentary about husband Bakhtiar and wife Zara both Iranians who have escaped to Turkey and are seeking to enter Europe with false documentation. Zara has been imprisoned, beaten and tortured in Iran.
Panahi receives regular discs with shoots of the film in his role as a virtual director. He has rented a room in the rural village from Ghanbar (Vahid Mobaseri) and becomes involved in a village dispute about villagers Gozal and Soldooz who are in love with each other to the chagrin of the Yaghoob family who through some tradition involving a cut umbilical cord believes one of their sons is to marry Gozal. A nine-year-old boy says he has seen Panahi photographing Gozal and Soldooz which would prove their “dishonourable” relationship. Panahi denies ever taking the photo and offers to give the villagers a disc from his camera that would prove his assertion he never took the photo. The situation escalates quickly. As one villager tells Panahi townsfolk worry about authority and country folk about superstition. This strange situation might be amusing initially until it turns deadly.
His film in Turkey is imploding due to Zara’s unwillingness to leave Turkey without her husband Bakhtiar who is having difficulty obtaining a false passport. That story ends tragically.
Nothing in the film really amounts to an explicit criticism of the regime as that criticism is buried deep in the film which at first glance seems to be the telling of two stories but lurking below that is a ripping criticism of life under the Iranian regime including:
- Lack of freedom of expression
- Harassment by political, security and civilian authorities of those considered a threat to the regime
- The relentless flow of those seeking to flee Iran many via human smugglers
- Confessions extracted as a matter of show lacking a grounding in reality
- Fear instilled by lies
- The willingness to blame foreign elements for domestic problems
- Being driven from your own homeland by desperation
As one villager warns Panahi as he is walking the streets of the village one night be careful because there are bears on the street. The villager shortly after recants telling Panahi there are no bears in the street as that is simply a story made to scare us as our fear empowers others. So true of many countries both past and present and not simply Iran.
You can see the trailer here https://vimeo.com/765806753 . The film opens a Canadian theatrical run on December 23.
RKS Film Rating 96/100.