One of the world’s great cinema artists, Jafar Panahi has been carefully crafting self-reflexive works about artistic, personal, and political freedom for the past three decades, despite being banned from filmmaking by the Iranian government since 2010. In No Bears—completed shortly before his imprisonment in 2022—Panahi plays a fictionalized version of himself, a dissident filmmaker who relocates to a rural border town to direct a film remotely in nearby Turkey and finds himself embroiled in a local scandal. As he struggles to complete his feature, Panahi must confront the opposing pulls of tradition and progress, city and country, belief and evidence, as well as the universal desire to reject oppression.
Criterion presents through their new Janus Contemporaries line Jafar Panahi’s No Bears in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode.
I couldn’t find details about how the movie was shot, but I suspect it was with a DSLR camera in HD. The picture looks very sharp and clean with excellent definition, but it has that flat digital look of a DSLR and features a handful of artifacts that pop up with them, notably banding and mild macroblocking. These could be due to poor encoding, but I don’t think that is the case, if only based on the fact that the other two debut Janus Contemporaries titles (EO and The Innocent) don’t prominently feature the same issue.
Despite those artifacts, the image does present a few surprises, particularly during the nighttime sequences. Though it’s these sequences where the banding is most apparent, I was rather impressed with how the black levels and shadows are captured and rendered. Even when it appears that the only light available is from a car's headlights, there is still a staggering amount of information, and it’s still easy to see what is happening.
Ultimately, it’s an excellent digital presentation from a digital source.
Though the film’s soundtrack is technically a 5.1 DTS-HD MA one, the mix sounds stereo, as it’s listed in the back. Quality is fine overall, sounding sharp and clear with excellent range and fidelity. The mix is simple, but there is noticeable movement between the fronts.
Criterion is delivering these editions as “no frills” ones, with simple (i.e., basic) home menu designs and no pop-up menu during playback. They also only feature a handful of supplements, which are also recycled from what has already appeared for the films on The Criterion Channel. That includes an 18-minute interview with filmmaker Ramin Bahrani, who talks about filmmaker Jafar Panahi’s background (which includes working as an assistant to Abbas Kiarostami) and how his films have upset the Iranian government, bringing up This Is Not a Film. He then discusses No Bears specifically, getting into its themes and how they’re a continuation of his previous films.
It's a fine overview, if not terribly in-depth. Sadly, outside of a short essay in an included insert, there isn’t anything else about the film. At the very least, the disc does feature a 2-minute audio recording of Panahi sent from prison to accept the Precious Gem Award from the Miami Film Festival, alongside the film’s 2-minute North American trailer.
Sadly, it's not all that satisfying, but since these releases appear to be similar to Criterion’s previous Eclipse line, we’re probably lucky there was anything.
A solid presentation with a couple of decent supplements.