The Venice Festival has another favorite in “No Bears”, the secretly realized feature film by the imprisoned Jafar Panahi.
In 1932, ninety years ago, the world’s first film festival was celebrated in Venice. “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was the opening film. Prizes have not yet been awarded, but the audience voted for their favorite films in a small democracy exercise in fascist Italy.
Not all festival editions are still valid today. During the Second World War it first became a “German-Italian Film Festival” and then was temporarily suspended. Of course, there is nothing to indicate in the anniversary year that its days could be numbered. The performances are packed, hotel rooms on the Lido are hard to find.
Onlookers and paparazzi get their money’s worth with an unusual density of Hollywood films, and when was the last time you saw a star of the caliber of Brad Pitt turn up unannounced? On Friday evening he suddenly found himself on the red carpet in his capacity as producer of the Marilyn Monroe biopic “Blonde” – with a black mask especially for writing autographs. Even the standing ovations broke records that evening: after 14 minutes, leading actress Ana de Armas had tears rolling down her face.
Your Marilyn is denied such honors in this melodramatic life story, even if there are large film palaces in it again and again – digitally generated including an audience like in a historical blockbuster. You will probably have to get used to this sight: You can then switch to full giant cinemas as a VR simulation for a streaming film. Apart from the Filmpalast from 1937, there are no longer any “real” cinemas on the Lido either, where most of the wooden and canvas auditoriums are only erected for the duration of the festival. That could also be a model for the future: if film festivals are not going to be cinema festivals but streaming festivals, you will only need film theaters as a temporary shell.
Film art itself will still survive – at least in the free world. Jafar Panahi, the imprisoned Iranian master, has done it again: despite his long-standing ban on working, he was able to make a full-length feature film and smuggle it out of the country. And once again he manages to draw attention to the shackles of the dictatorship and to remain true to the humanistic optimism that is so typical of him.
In the complex but lightly arranged film narrative, he himself takes on the role of director Jafar Panahi, who has rented a place in a village on the border with Turkey. Using a shaky internet connection, he directs a film crew that is shooting a refugee drama on the other side. But reality doesn’t want to be locked out of the film: the leading actress, a victim of torture, firmly expects to actually have to flee to Paris with her partner, as portrayed in the film. But while the director may have hoped to pull the strings of real life for the better, he comes up against the limits of his utopia.
In the village, a close-knit community makes life difficult. He is suspected of having photographed a secret lover while taking pictures in the village. When he fails to provide the evidence he wants, the quaint villagers and their supposed traditions prove no less menacing than the dictatorship that surrounds them.
“No Bears” is the name of Jafar Panahi’s first major feature film in five years. The title refers to an appeasement phrase about invisible dangers. How afraid the Iranian government must be of his free spirit and certainly of a lion he could now win in absentia. It would be his second since The Circle in 2000.
After an attractive but masterpiece-poor competition, there isn’t much competition for Jafar Panahi. The most accomplished film of the festival came from Japan: Koji Fukada’s “Love Life”, this disarmingly unconventional love triangle about the bereaved of a deceased child, eclipsed everything here. The jury, chaired by US actress Julianne Moore, will award their prizes on Saturday evening.