Review by Tatiana Miranda
At first glance, No Bears appears to be one of the several movies to come out of 2022 that focuses on filmmaking, alongside The Fabelmans and Babylon. But No Bears is unique in many ways, mainly regarding the context surrounding the film's making and location. Part documentary and part fiction, No Bears is centered around an Iranian director, "Jafar Panahi," who is portrayed by the real-life director of the film, Jafar Panahi.
While the film is heavily fictionalized, Panahi's real-world influences are apparent throughout. Having been banned from filmmaking in 2010 by the Iranian government, Panahi applies this struggle to his film as this character attempts to make a movie in Turkey without being able to leave Iran. Filled with slapstick-style scenes of Panahi trying to video-call his assistant in Turkey as his internet connection continues to go in and out, Panahi is able to blend drama and comedy in order to highlight the surrealist nature of the position he is in.
Beyond its humorous moments, No Bears is anxiety-inducing. Panahi's real-life urgency and secretive style of filmmaking are reflected on screen as his character resides near the border of Iran and Turkey, slyly working on his next movie. Through the character's actions, those of the characters within his film, and the real Panahi's experience, the audience watches as each deals with their feelings of being trapped.
Panahi, the character, frequents the border and contemplates fleeing to Turkey. The characters in his film, Bakhtiar and Zara, are shown trying to gain passports in order to leave and go to Europe, a storyline which is also portrayed to be inspired by the actors' experiences. Lastly, Panahi, the director, includes his personal restrictions through simple but poignant directorial decisions.
Even the film's title harps back to the overarching subject of borders and what lies beyond them. In a conversation between Panahi and his landlord Ghanbar, they discuss the town's superstitious beliefs about bears that keep people from crossing the border. In response to Panahi's question about the bears, Ghanbar disproves this idea and says a line encapsulating the film's central thesis: "Our fear empowers others. No Bears!"
Unlike its Western counterparts telling the history and creativity of filmmaking, No Bears tackles the discussion of the limitations many have to deal with when it comes to censorship and authoritarian governments. Even without the context of Panahi's current imprisonment and many run-ins with the law, No Bears is a defiant representation of Panahi's passion for filmmaking and the realities he has dealt with while trying to hone his craft.
No Bears is now playing in theaters.