Tag Archives: Jafar Panahi

There Will Be Blood

No Bears

by George Wolf

Even if you know nothing of acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, No Bears (Khers nist) should be an absorbing and compelling experience.

But when you consider that Panahi (This Is Not a Film, Taxi, Closed Curtain) not only shot the film in secret, but currently sits in a Tehran prison, and is barred from writing, directing, giving interviews or traveling outside Iran until 2030, his continued commitment to agitation through artistic expression grows immeasurably inspirational.

With No Bears, Panahi uses the parallel lives of two Iranian couples to comment on the struggles of that expression, and on the powerful forces that conspire to restrict free will.

Panahi plays himself, arriving at a small village near the Turkish border to set up a base where he can direct his latest film remotely, joining the set through internet connection. While two actors in his cast (Mina Kavani and Bakhtiyar Panjeei) are trying desperately to land fake passports and flee Iran, Panahi quickly becomes a person of interest in the village.

Word has spread that Panahi may have unwittingly snapped a photo of a young Iranian woman (Darya Alei) with a man (Amir Davari) other than the one who has “claimed” her. Villagers are demanding the photo as proof of a grave misdeed, while the woman in question fears the bloodshed that will come from the photo’s existence.

Despite numerous reassurances to Panahi about “honorable” intent, the pressure from the villagers only increases, much like the desperation of his actors looking to start a new life.

Panahi films in a style that is understandably guerilla, but stands in sharp contrast to the dense, and thrillingly complex storytelling at work. He is deftly calling out both the oppressors and the enablers, while he weighs the rippling effect of his own choices amid a deeply ingrained bureaucracy of fundamentalism and fear, superstition and gossip.

No Bears is a brave and bold blurring of fact and fiction, with Panahi embracing the gritty authenticity of the most urgent first person documentary and the layered storylines of a political page-turner. It may be his most daring project to date, accentuated by a defiant final shot that teeters on the line between ending and beginning.

Women Interrupted

3 Faces

by Rachel Willis

After receiving a distressing video from a young, aspiring actress, Behnaz Jafari’s life is thrown into turmoil. Playing herself in director Jafar Panahi’s largely fictionalized narrative about cultural differences, honor, and the dreams of a young girl, Jafari abandons the set of her current project to travel to a remote village in northwestern Iran. Haunted by this plea for help, she feels compelled to seek out the young woman.

Panahi, also playing himself, accompanies Jafari on her search. Though the director is, in fact, in the midst of a 20-year filmmaking ban imposed on him by the Iranian government, he once again manages to make a thought-provoking films examining life in his country. Here he looks at the struggles of three actresses at different points in their careers: a pre-Revolution actress named Sharzad, current star Jafari, and the young actress in need, Marziyeh Rezaei.

Rezaei’s won an opportunity to study acting, which her parents have accepted as a condition of accepting an engagement. Learning that her parents have no intention of upholding their end of the bargain, Rezaei’s desperation compels her to reach out to Jafari, whom she believes can help convince her parents to let her go.

While searching for Rezaei, Jafari and Panahi find themselves engaging with a number of villagers. Most of the exchanges are comical. The residents are at times star-struck, sometimes suspicious, and often dismissive of the “entertainers.” The conversations revolve around an excellent stud bull, the magical properties of foreskin, and the pretension of people from the city, among other things. These interactions reveal a lot about the people in Rezaei’s village, and the kind of challenges she faces.

For the majority of the film, Panahi’s camera focuses on Jafari. Even during scenes where the story seems to follow another character, our focus remains on Jafari. When Panahi does shift focus, it can’t help but draw your attention. Again, during what appear to be meaty scenes – as when Jafari speaks with Rezaei’s parents—we are not privy to the action. Instead, this time, we remain with Panahi as he wanders away from Rezaei’s house and watches Sharzad from afar as she paints. It’s only through a car alarm in the background that we understand the possibility that not everything is well back at the house.

Minimalist in style and tone, Panahi’s film still mines the deepest wells of human emotion.