No Bears is the fifth feature film by Jafar Panahi, despite the 2010 ruling that banned him from making films or leaving Iran. We see the filmmaker in a village on the border with Turkey, while he remotely directs a film crew on the other side. Even before we realise where we are, our attention is drawn to something unusual in the opening shot: the moving camera, which directly observes a street from within a car, exudes a freedom that has become precious in Panahi's filmmaking.
By slowly zooming out, however, he brings us back to reality, and the street is framed by the screen of a laptop, with Panahi behind it. He directs the scene via a video connection. We find out that he is making a feature film with documentary elements remotely, starring a banished Iranian couple trying to enter Europe.
In parallel love stories, two couples face the social power structure they are in. At the same time, director Panahi unwittingly becomes involved in a political scandal in the village when he is asked to share a photo of a couple in a forbidden relationship. The drama escalates, and it becomes clear how seemingly innocent artistic actions can have extreme consequences. Faced with so many challenges, Panahi reflects on his inability to leave his homeland of Iran, even though it seems as simple as stepping over an invisible border in the middle of the night, somewhere on a deserted hill.