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No Bears (Leeds International Film Festival)

2 min read
No Bears

Image: JP Production

A tenacious piece of filmmaking that uses irony to illustrate the ethical seriousness of and injustice in . 

Iranian director opens this year's Leeds International Film Festival with his statement piece, . Panahi does not shy away from pushing the boundaries, with his previous semi-fictional film Taxi Tehran as a marker. In 2010 he was banned from filmmaking by the government, though as with Taxi, his valorous creativity ensues. 

Filmed in secret, No Bears is portrayed through two parallel stories. Panahi plays a somewhat realistic version of himself. At the same time, with the help of his friend Naser (Naser Hashemi), he directs a film remotely of a couple living over the Iranian border.

In a seemingly typical beginning, the film sets the scene in a café on a lively, bustling street. However, the pleasantries quickly end as you hear a loud “CUT”. The camera smoothly transitions out to show Panahi directing the scene via a laptop, rudely interrupted by a loss of signal. Subtle laughs echo around the cinema in response to this relatable shot. Known for being overtly self-reflective, Panahi regularly breaks the fourth wall and invites the audience to witness the limitations he faces.  

Zara (Mina Kavani) and Bakhtiar (Bakhtiar Panjeei) are the desperate couple Panahi is filming as they embark on their journey to flee the country. The pair encounter much turmoil as they rush to acquire fake passports. The aim is clear – cross the borders without bloodshed. Simultaneously, in the small village, an illicit couple have similar plans to flee, albeit more indecorous. 

Undoubtedly self-aware, Panahi uses his restraints on filmmaking to his advantage. He capitalises on his secrecy to capture the bleak reality of Iranians living on the border.  

Panahi remains a likeable character that repeatedly wishes to keep the peace in the village where he is staying. Though sceptical of their traditions, he obliges, perhaps in a hopeful bid to go unnoticed in his illegal ventures. However, in a similar fate to reality, his camerawork lands him in trouble amongst the locals. 

Despite the claims of the villagers, it is not the bears that need be feared here. It is instead our kin; the Homosapien, that seeks to destroy the optimism of these hopeful lovers. Torn on what to do, Panahi feels bound to the village, contemplating his next move; a lifelike comparison that is ever-present for him.  

No Bears screened at Leeds International 3rd – 17th November