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Laramie Movie Scope: No Bears

Forbidden loves and forbidden journeys

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 20, 2023 – This movie within a movie within a related larger reality has a number of layers. On one level, it is a Romeo and Juliet story of star-crossed lovers. On another level, it is a story other star-crossed lovers trying desperately to escape political tyranny, and on another level, it is about the unintended consequences of filmmaking itself.

Iranian film director Jafar Panahi (“Taxi”) appears as himself in this film, hiding in the small Iranian border village of Jabbar while remotely directing a film in Turkey using the internet. The film he is directing in Turkey is about the obstacles faced by a waitress, Zara (played by Mina Kavani) and Bakhtiar (Bakhtiar Panjei) as they try to escape to Europe from Iran.

The twist is that these two actors really are in love and they really are trying to get to Europe in another layer of this movie-within-a-movie-within-a-movie. If that isn't confusing enough, there are still more layers here. It is almost like standing between two mirrors and seeing multiple reflections of yourself.

Panahi, while directing this film from afar, gets into trouble by taking pictures of the superstitious villagers without their permission. The villagers get the idea that Panahi has taken a picture of a young woman, Gozal (Darya Alei) and her lover Solduz (Amir Davari). The problem is that these two are from rival families, and Gozal was promised at birth to another man, Jacob (Javad Siyahi).

Panahi insists he didn't take the picture of Gozal and Solduz, but the villagers don't believe him. Instead, they believe a young boy who says he saw Panahi take the picture. It is an open question whether Panahi took the picture, or not, or if he took the picture and erased it, or hid it. At any rate, after being ceaselessly pestered by villagers, he gives them the memory card from his camera and tells them to look for the non-existent picture themselves.

Even after this, the villagers want Panahi to publicly swear on the Koran that he did not take the picture, which is a local tradition. He agrees to this, but the swearing in turns into an argument with Jacob, who insists that he is entitled by local traditions to Gozal. This all seems absurd to Panahi, and it is, but it is also very serious.

All the controversy and inflamed passions about the conflicts involving Gozal, Solduz and Jacob, bring unwanted attention to the village from higher authorities. Since the village economy depends on illegal smuggling operations, the villagers don't want authorities sniffing around. Panahi, who is on the run from the authorities himself, heeds the advice of locals and gets out of town quickly.

In the meantime, Panahi's other project, the movie within a movie involving Zara and Bakhtiar trying to get to Europe, has gone off the rails as well. Bakhtiar has gotten a fake passport for Zara, but can't get one for himself. He tells her to go to Europe alone, and he will follow when he can. She refuses to leave without him.

Zara is way more passionate than practical. The whole situation gets completely out of control while Panahi helplessly follows events in Turkey via his phone and faulty internet connections. It seems as though Panahi's movie is causing unintended consequences in Turkey, just as his presence in Jabbar caused unintended conflicts there.

A real world layer in this saga is that Panahi himself was arrested (for real) right after this movie was filmed. Panahi has been sentenced to six years in prison for “propaganda against the regime.” If the making of “No Bears,” which was shot secretly in Iran, led to Panahi's arrest, and others involved in the making of this film, that would fit in perfectly with the “No Bears” theme of unintended consequences.

Werner Heisenberg's famous uncertainty principle, in effect, states that the very act of observing something affects it. That principle is embodied here in multiple layers. This is directly related to all the unintended consequences in, and around the making of this movie.

The problem I had with this film is that I was probably lost in translation, relying on subtitles (the spoken languages are Farsi, Turkish and Azeri). I found the character motivations unconvincing, perhaps because of the cultural differences between Iran and the United States. In my own defence however, the traditions in the village of Jabbar also seemed to make no sense to Panahi, either, and he's Iranian.

While I can't really recommend this film to Americans who are as unfamiliar with Iranian language and culture as I am, it may probably perfectly understandable to those who are more familiar with those aspects of the movie. This film rates a C+.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff (no extra charges apply). I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2023 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at dalek three zero one nine at gmail dot com [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]