No Bears: The Master of a Border Crosser movie review

Jafar Panahi’s films are not merely documents of the conditions in which they were made. You are in constant conflict with them. Time and time again, the Iranian filmmaker has to grapple with censorship and repression from a political regime that is a thorn in the side of his films. The result was a ban (travel) and house arrest. His work This Is Not a Movie was once smuggled out of the country by hiding a USB stick in a cake.

Jaafar Panahi is now in a prison in Tehran. In 2010, he was sentenced to several years in prison for publicity allegations. His previously completed 24th film was shown at the Venice Film Festival in the director’s absence. in “no bearsPanahi ventures again subjectively to meditate on the frontier regions of fiction and documentation.

Nobody plays brilliantly with fantasy and reality

Even the first scene is a perversion: the camera slowly sweeps through public space. People sit in a bar, street musicians collect money. In the middle appears a couple, Zara (Mina Cavani) and Sinan (Sinan Yusufoglu). As the row over the planned escape to France intensified, a different voice suddenly appeared. The camera retracts and we are in a different place. It’s all just filming. But the zoom goes further – and suddenly we see that the director isn’t actually there himself, it’s running from afar instead, connected via his laptop.

Jaafar Panahi plays the role of a director named Jaafar Panahi. He withdrew from Tehran to the provinces not far from the Iranian-Turkish border. While trying to use certain tricks to continue his work as a director, he shoots photos in the area, causing (another) scandal. He is said to have photographed a forbidden couple. Soon the whole village is turned upside down and demands release. It’s about the honor that the stranger puts at risk by documenting it, and now you want to get it back by all means.

Stranger in the counties

“No Bear” is a new event in the director’s work. Panahi does not have to reinvent itself for this. Once again he negotiates the tension between an art striving for freedom and the restrictions placed upon it. His autobiographical experiences and the circumstances in which his work appeared are the central theme of the narrative. However, Panahi once again achieves the heights and differentiation of the cinematically adapted struggle that the artist has to deal with in his homeland. “No Bears” takes the descriptive works of what is probably one of the most important filmmakers of our time while building a multi-layered social narrative. You don’t even need to know the director’s background to be intrigued by this masterpiece.

First of all, Panahi made a film about the interference of the stranger in a closed society, outwardly unshakable, embodied in herself. Film and photography are only a means and an end to speak of both the power and the responsibility inherent in their media practices. A simple shot is enough to spoil things. Reclusive, Panahi is allowed to look at this microcosm from the outside through an unobstructed view. Suddenly, the image makes you feel exposed to the world. Someone might notice how weird teamwork is with all its weird traditions.


Jaafar Panahi drives a car that, of course, has a different name due to his convictions.

Creating images also means the fear of losing control. It does not matter whether the image that is now causing so much conflict actually exists. Yet Jafar Panahi is said to have vowed to abide by the customs, culminating in increasingly ridiculous confrontations. Panahi ultimately speaks of repressive social inertia, and a panicked refusal to change. In the city you have problems with the authorities, in the village with superstitions, as the movie once said.

It is said that bears are ready to mischief there – just horror stories, so that you do not have to leave the organized paths and open up new horizons. Panahi depicts this with a certain tongue in cheek, without distorting his characters into absurdity. His sense of humor is inextricably linked with sadness that he regrets that there are no alternatives in this world.

Shared viewpoints around the world

“There is no endurance” is not an activist who shouts out loud. His sabotage arises from a very fragile and quiet self-reflection. Reflect on the morals of her images. What about the rights of individuals not to expose themselves to media fixation? What is the right time to point the camera? In the story arc of Sinan and Zara that opens the film, a deadly catastrophe will eventually occur. Rescue cry “Cut!” Prevent the media from exploiting terrible suffering at the last minute.

How do you make art that cares about transforming society when people aren’t interested in changing? The song “No Bears” returns to that central question over and over, quietly and deliberately despondent of the world. There can only be one step to this kind of exploration, which Panahi is constantly undertaking yet again: the abolition of the alleged conflict between the feature film and the documentary. Time and time again Panahi has found wonderful ways to unravel the process of artistic production in an oppressive regime. For example in creating fantasy images like “This is not a movie” or using a car camera in “Tehran Taxi”.

With “No Bears”, he elicits another exciting aspect of these necessities, which is acting when those in charge of movies or photos are not at all or at least indirectly involved in the video call during filming or shooting. Views are split here, transferred to other places and regrouped. One constantly doubts the credibility of these views, which one must trust in order to realize one’s own vision. Here and now production collapses. “No Bears” doesn’t quite manage to combine its two spatially distant stories with love stories with the same intensity. What Jafar Panahi experiences with the local villagers takes place more prominently. But you forgive him easily, because it’s about the actual gist of a drama anyway.

Exciting site visit

Spatial exploration alone initiates Panahi in a formally impressive way. “No Bears” uses long camera shots that move with deliberate precision and control. The result is an attractive and hypnotic action. He shows his dialogues in the village as if on stage. It overlooks a dusty landscape that you can comb by car. And it leads to the invisible and dangerous borders in the moonlight at night.

This means territorial boundaries, but also in a symbolic sense. Panahi works for this overlay step by step. It is a tentative approach to how far one can dare to approach it, and how it can still be transcended, also in an intellectual and artistic sense. At one point, two bodies covered in blood returned from there. They are wrapped in the landscape like a monument. Not far away, someone is driving anxiously, not sure where to go next. The song “No Bears” ends loudly with the handbrake app. At least he stopped vocally. It can’t go on like this.

Synopsis: Prior to his current imprisonment, Jafar Panahi made another interesting, cleverly formalized film about social inertia with “Can’t Bear”, which impressively reflects the possibilities and dangers of his own images.

We saw “No Bears” at the Venice Film Festival, where it had its world premiere as part of the official competition.

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