Movie Review: No Bears

Movie Review: No Bears

Jafar Panahi is compelled to document the world around him. Despite a 20-year filmmaking ban imposed by the Iranian government, the director continued to release complex, daringly reflective films that investigate Iranian society, government oppression, and himself. Panahi managed to release five feature films, including Taxi Tehran (2015) and 3 Faces (2018)—gaining international recognition at the Cannes and Berlin film festivals. However, this July, Iranian officials detained Panahi, condemning him to a six-year prison sentence for anti-government propaganda, but not before he secretly directed an incisive commentary that implicates both filmmaking and the filmmaker. 

No Bears introduces us to two Iranian exiles, Bakhtiar (Bakhtiyar Panjeei) and Zara (Mina Kavani) as they discuss their plans to find asylum in Europe. Anxiety intensifies as the couple faces separation when Bakhtiar encourages Zara to flee Turkey first with her stolen passport. But almost immediately, the film folds on itself, panning out to reveal that Panahi, playing a version of himself, is directing a film documenting the couple’s real experience. Panahi loses Internet, propelling us into the director’s immediate setting: a remote town near the Iran-Turkey border. Despite the generosity of his host Ghanbar (Vahid Mobasheri) and his remote setting, Panahi becomes embroiled in controversy incited by a photograph of a young couple, played by Darya Alei and Amir Davari, that locals believe he captured. He denies the accusation, but a boiling tension is fueled by a romantic rival that intends to marry the girl. Panahi is entangled by two complex love stories that escalate into devastating conflict due to the director’s compulsive documentation. And this is No Bears’s most heart-stirring retrospective. 

Panahi’s latest film interrogates the limits of art, placing cinema and documentation under a critical eye. The director recognizes cinema as a source of possibility but dares to weigh the severe, occasionally ruinous consequences of creating. No Bears reveals the creases and shortcomings of cinema that hide behind a compulsive endeavor to create, positioning Panahi himself at the core of these dilemmas. This bold decision makes No Bears Panahi’s most honest film, among an impressive filmography. 106 min.

Gene Siskel Film Center