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#TIFF22 Reviews: No Bears (Special Presentations)

September 19, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The 2022 Toronto International Film Festival ran from September 8th to 18th.

The latest film from the currently imprisoned Iranian director Jafar Panahi, No Bears is a work of meta filmmaking that weaves together two narratives. Panahi casts himself as a filmmaker who is directing his latest work remotely from a small village just over the Turkish border, with his assistant director Reza (Reza Heydari) clandestinely delivering him hard drives containing the footage in the dead of night.

In the film-within-a-film that Panahi is directing over video calls through a spotty internet connection, a couple (played by Mina Kavani and Bakhtiyar Panjeei) are trying to secure fake passports to escape to France. The film takes on yet another level and becomes even more of an exercise in meta storytelling, as Panahi’s character gets bombarded by the local villagers for a photo of a young couple that they believe he has taken.

The film takes on a farcical quality at this point as the various locals confront him, with Panahi – as both filmmaker and character – playfully challenging the village’s adherence to traditional religious customs that subjugate women. If No Bears takes a little while to reveal itself, the film works as an entertaining and at times powerful semi-autobiographical work from Panahi. It constantly blurs the line between fact and fiction, in its own way becoming a statement on his arrest and how he has been judged for his boundary-pushing art.

In its best moments, such as a powerful nighttime meeting between Panahi and his AD at the amorphous land border where human smugglers carry people across, and an equally memorable scene later on that gives the film its amusing yet haunting title, No Bears subtly presents itself as a statement on how superstition and stories are used to keep us in fear. What a message from a filmmaker who has been unfairly locked up by his country’s government for his art.

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