Dir: Jafar Panahi | Cast: Jafar Panahi, Naser Hashemi, Vahid Mobaseri, Bakhtiar Panjei, Mina Kavani, Narjes Delaram, Reza Heydari | Iran, 104’
Two love stories intercept in this latest from Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi. No Bears sees him play arbiter and remote filmmaker – from a laptop in exile in his own country – in a deceptively simple political docudrama set on the Turkish border with Iran: Borders being the major thematic concern.
The gulf between tradition and modernity, city and countryside, fact and superstition is expounded and questioned with dark humour and a lightness of touch as the director tries to get on with shooting his film amid dodgy wifi connections. It follows Zara (Mina Kavani) and Bakhtiar (Bakhtiar Penjei) who are hoping to find freedom in Europe. In the process of securing fake passports, Zara makes it clear that they must leave together – or the deal is off. So much for love!.
From a remote village just over the border in Iran, Panahi is monitoring proceedings from his laptop with the help of Ghanbar (Vahid Mobaseri), his earnest assistant director who suddenly leaves to attend a wedding ceremony. Panahi asks him to film the ceremony involving a couple who have been betrothed since the cutting of the newborn bride to be’s umbilical cord. But another man has become involved with the bride and she has jumped at the opportunity to go him to Tehran causing much concern for the traditional local community who have resorted to smuggling, as farming no longer makes any money since the drought.
While desperately trying to keep a low profile from the authorities Panahi finds himself drawn into village politics with the local sheriff (Hashemi) claiming the director has taken a photo of the two putative elopers – witnessed by a little boy. Although Panahi is adamant to the contrary, giving his photo-card as proof, he gradually finds himself ‘persona non grata’ amongst the locals. And as the tone grows progressively more urgent for the troubled lovers Panahi ponders not only freedom of movement but also creative and intellectual liberty in his beleaguered nation, and further afield. No Bears is no great shakes from a visual point of view but carries a potent sociopolitical message. MT
No Bears BFI London Film Festival 2022 | October 5-16 in cinemas and on BFI Player On general release nationwide from Friday, November 11.