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Why make a movie? Why watch one? As banal as these questions are, they're also unsettling. The world is so flooded with images that making sense of what's already there can feel paralyzing; adding something new can seem like the very definition of absurdity. Sentimentality about the power of cinema — to raise awareness, expand empathy, confront the truth, change the world — mirrors a cynicism that insists on cinema's triviality.
It's only a movie! That's as true of "No Bears" as of anything else, but there may be no living filmmaker who has considered the practical and philosophical implications of the art form — the work of shooting and cutting; the pleasure and anxiety of watching — as rigorously or as insightfully as the Iranian director Jafar Panahi.
He can't be accused of taking movies lightly, or of taking himself too seriously. He has continued to practice his craft, conscientiously and playfully, at the risk of his comfort, his freedom and possibly his life. When in 2010 the Iranian government banned him from directing, he answered with "This Is Not a Film," a feature-length video diary shot partly on an iPhone and technically not "directed" at all.
Not long after "No Bears" was completed — it was filmed in secret earlier this year — Panahi was sentenced in Iran to six years in prison. In the months since, mass protests challenging the authority of the Islamic Republic have swept across the country and have been answered with brutal repression.
"No Bears" finds Panahi (again playing himself) occupying rented rooms in a village near the Turkish border, far from his home in Tehran. In a small city in Turkey not far from the village, a film is being shot under his direction — one apparently based on the real-life story of two Iranian exiles, Zara (Mina Kavani) and Bakhtiar (Bakhtiar Panjei), who hope to find asylum in France. Panahi supervises the production on his laptop and his cellphone when he has a signal, which isn't often. His assistant director, Reza (Reza Heydari), tries to convince Panahi to visit the set, perhaps with the help of the smugglers and human traffickers who control the area. But the border is a line the director won't cross.— A.O. Scott, The New York Times
Sun October 22, 2:00 PM, Muenzinger Auditorium
Iran; 2022; in Turkish, Azerbaijani, Persian; 107 min • official site
Director: Jafar Panahi, Writer: Jafar Panahi, Cast: Jafar Panahi, Naser Hashemi, Vahid Mobaser, Bakhtiyar Panjeei, Mina Kavani