Arts & Entertainment

Panahi film on personal, artistic freedom wraps up Venice’s main competition

By Alicia Garcia de Francisco

Venice, Italy, Sep 9 (EFE).- With Jafar Panahi in prison and his chair left empty at a press conference ahead of Friday’s screening of his latest film at the Venice International Film Festival, the acclaimed Iranian director’s work did the talking for him.

In “No Bears” (Khers Nist), the 62-year-old filmmaker delivers a potent defense of physical liberty and freedom of expression in a picture seen as a major contender for the Golden Lion.

A film within a film that fuses fiction and reality, it serves in part as a reflection on the plight of the renowned director, who inserted himself in the picture as one of the characters.

In the movie, Panahi is living in a remote Iranian village and shooting a new film via videocalls with his assistant director based across the border in Turkey, a process interrupted by constant problems with the Internet connection.

The movie he is remotely filming tells the story of an Iranian couple that wants to flee to Europe, while the actors of that film within a film themselves want to leave Turkey. Panahi, meanwhile, refuses to cross the border into Turkey illegally to shoot the picture in person, even as he becomes embroiled in a dispute in the small town where he is staying.

Panahi uses a multi-layered narrative structure in which he explores the restrictions Iranians face in their homeland, the traditions that limit the scope of their decision-making, the fear of being reported to the authorities and the impossibility of fulfilling one’s dreams.

Sentenced in 2010 to six years in prison in Iran on charges of collusion, propaganda and threats to national security, Panahi was released shortly afterward on $200,000 bail without serving the prison term.

But in July of this year he was arrested after inquiring about the detention of a fellow filmmaker and criticizing the government and then ordered to serve the pending sentence.

Besides the prison term, Panahi has been barred from making films, writing screenplays, traveling abroad and giving interviews to local or foreign media.

Yet despite those restrictions, he has made four clandestine feature-length fiction films, three documentaries and three short films since 2010.

Of them, his 2015 film “Taxi Teheran” won the Berlin Film Festival’s top prize, the Golden Bear; the 2013 film “Closed Curtain” won the Silver Bear for best screenplay; and his 2018 picture “Three Faces” won the prize for best screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival.

Reza Heydari, a cast member of “No Bears,” sent a message of support to the jailed filmmaker from Venice, saying it is shameful that the director is behind bars as opposed to being free and sharing his knowledge of cinema with others.

Heydari said Panahi’s attorneys are working to secure his release from prison, adding that he has tried on several occasions to see the filmmaker but that only visits from close family members are permitted.

Another cast member, Mina Kavani, an Iranian actress who has lived in Paris for 12 years, said working on a film directed by Panahi was a dream come true for her.

Recalling that she has not returned to her homeland since her departure, Kavani said she has the utmost respect for actresses and female filmmakers who work in Iran and that while her decision to emigrate has been very positive she cannot comment on what choices her counterparts in Iran should make.

A total of 23 films are in the running for the festival’s top prize, the Golden Lion, with “No Bears” the last to be screened.

American actress Julianne Moore is heading up the jury that is evaluating the pictures entered in that main international competition and will announce the winner on Saturday. EFE


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