starring Naser Hashemi, Reza Heydari, Mina Kavani, Bülent Keser
written and directed by Jafar Panahi
by Walter Chaw Jafar Panahi's No Bears is about imprisonment--a topic near and dear to the Iranian filmmaker's heart, as he has been, and is currently, a prisoner at the discretion of Iran's fascist government. First sentenced to six years in prison in 2010 for making films critical of the regime (a conviction that included a 20-year ban on filmmaking of any kind), Panahi spent that time under house arrest but was finally physically imprisoned in July of 2022 for raising a fuss on behalf of director and fellow prisoner-of-conscience Mohammad Rasoulof. Through clever subterfuge, Panahi has continued to direct new movies during his ban, of course--good ones, perhaps none so good as his latest, in which he plays himself, looking for a little peace and a wifi signal in a remote border town. He's directing a film by proxy, watching from his laptop as his AD, Reza (Reza Heydari), listens to his instructions regarding blocking, camera, even performance, transmitted across a physical and emotional distance through Reza's earbuds. "It's not the same without you," Reza tells Panahi; the energy is off with Panahi working through a surrogate. He can't pinpoint how, exactly, and Panahi, as he portrays himself, isn't one to make an awkward situation more comfortable. He listens more than he speaks. He waits for people to finish, then gives them an extra couple of seconds to regret what they've said. I've seen Werner Herzog do this in his documentaries, too--letting the camera run long past the point at which decorum would dictate relief from scrutiny. Panahi now lives under constant surveillance, after all, so why should any of his subjects suffer less?