No Bears Review – Jafar Panahi’s penetratingly self-assured study of filmmaking and fear – The Guardian | Episode Movies

EEarlier this year, Iranian auteur filmmaker Jafar Panahi was arrested and sentenced to six years in prison in the latest politically motivated attempt to silence an artist who has been banned from filmmaking since 2010. Despite the ban, Panahi has remained a creative a thorn in the side of Iranian authorities. Its provocative title This Is not a movie (2011) was smuggled out of Iran on a USB stick hidden in a cake and premiered to great acclaim in Cannes. Its next two features, closed curtain (2013) and Taxi Tehran (2015), brought him a Silver and a Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival 3 faces (2018) was awarded Best Screenplay in Cannes.

This latest slimmed-down work from the world’s quietest movie buff has already (deservedly) won the Venice Jury’s Special Prize and the Prize for Cinematic Valor at the Chicago International Film Festival. In Miami, where the director received the film festival’s Precious Gem Award, Panahi found an audio message recorded in prison in which he wryly declared, “I wish I could do movies instead of receiving awards” because “I have dreams , which surpass all the awards of the world.” And what dreams are those!

Given the circumstances of its creation, it’s no surprise that Panahi’s recent work has obsessively and self-reflectively returned to the subject of filmmaking itself. For example, here he plays a version of himself again – a filmmaker directing his latest feature film remotely. Shot in Turkey, his new film presents a true-to-life account of a couple, Zara (Mina Kavani) and Bakhtiar (Bakhtiar Panjei), who face separation as they attempt to flee to a new life in Europe. Panahi, unable to leave Iran, directs them over the Internet, through a computer screen. But instead of doing this from Tehran, where he had a halfway decent internet connection, he’s instead rented a room in a remote village near the border, which puts him physically closer to the action but also conjures up a creative barrier as his phone signal keeps dropping in and out in almost slapstick fashion.

When assistant director Reza (Reza Heydari) visits Panahi, the two take a surreally tinged night trip to the Turkish border (an eerie no man’s land populated by smugglers in speeding vehicles), and he invites the filmmaker to cross the invisible frontier of his country separated from its neighbor. But Panahi is embroiled in his own domestic drama, his camera accidentally dragging him into an argument (“there will be blood”) between two men who are both trying to win the hand of a local girl. Meanwhile, in Turkey, actors begin to doubt the integrity of their director, whose docudrama threatens to tear them apart in real life, creating two parallel love stories that eerily mirror and reflect each other’s dark power struggles.

“What about the bears?” Panahi asks as he takes an evening stroll to the outskirts of the village on his way to a meeting where he faces charges of taking an incriminating photograph – a photograph of which he claims it doesn’t exist. “There are no bears,” replies his companion, who has previously assured this metropolitan immigrant that “city dwellers have problems with the authorities, but we have problems with superstitions.” All just “nonsense, made up stories to scare us. Our fears empower others. No bears!”

It’s a cute title swap that succinctly summarizes the drama’s key themes: the fusion of modern authority and archaic superstition, the divide between town and country, the power of storytelling, the suppression of fear, and the absurdity of dogma. These are intimate personal scenarios with broader political resonances that resonate throughout Panahi’s filmography.

still No bears is also a penetratingly self-assured portrait of an artist who is not afraid to portray himself and his craft as distant or insular. Despite what he has endured, Panahi retains the wit and humility to hold himself accountable – to question his art with remarkable candor and self-mockery. Filtering his immense contribution to cinema through a deceptively random lens, he reminds us once again that filmmaking can be a deeply human endeavor; at the same time comedic, tragic and truthful.

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