BY Marko Gluhaich in Opinion | 01 MAR 23

Editor’s Picks: Jafar Panahi’s ‘No Bears’

This week’s selection also revisits the works of two literary giants and Yo Yo Ma’s electrifying rendition of a Bach classic 

BY Marko Gluhaich in Opinion | 01 MAR 23

Frieze Editor’s Picks is a fortnightly column in which a frieze editor shares their recommendations for what to watch, read and listen to.

No Bears, Jafar Panahi

In 2010 the Iranian director Jafar Panahi was banned from making films or leaving his home country for the next 20 years. He has since directed five more projects. The most recent, No Bears (2022), is an exercise in metacinema. The plot centres Panahi, who plays a fictionalized version of himself, as he remotely directs a film from a border village near Turkey, while at the same time becoming entangled in a local scandal concerning a young couple.

No Bears, 2022
No Bears, 2022, film still. Courtesy: Celluloid Pictures

Tension mounts as Panahi’s character faces suspicion from locals who doubt his intentions. Each shot is loaded with both the necessity and the risk of its existence. By the time No Bears premiered at last year’s Venice Film Festival, Panahi had been arrested and sentenced to six years in prison. He was released last month after a two-day hunger strike.


The Magician, Colm Tóibín

A couple weeks ago, in Los Angeles for the Frieze Art Fair, I visited Nicola L’s impressive show for ‘Frieze Projects: Against the Edge’, at the Thomas Mann House. There, I ran into Frieze co-founder Matthew Slotover, who recommended Colm Tóibín’s The Magician (2021), a fictionalized biography of the writer of The Magic Mountain (1924). Already a fan of Tóibín’s exploration of the interior life of Henry James in The Master (2004), I powered through the new book on my flight back to New York the following day. The work is well-researched; one writer’s close study of another’s oeuvre and journals. Tóibín traces Mann’s entire life, narrativizing the experiences that would influence the author’s great novels.

The Magician, book cover
Book Cover. Penguin Books Limited

The Magician, however, is less concerned with historical fact, and more interested in inspiration and craft – a trip into the minds of both its subject and author. Like The Master before it, The Magician reminds me of a remark made by Ben Lerner of poet John Ashbery at Pioneer Works, New York in 2015. ‘Some of my favourite words written about John Ashbery,’ Lerner quipped, ‘were written by John Ashbery about Gertrude Stein.’ Which is to say, some of my favourite words written about Colm Tóibín were written by Colm Tóibín about Thomas Mann.

Bach: 6 Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, Yo Yo Ma

I first became enamoured with Bach after listening to Glenn Gould’s early and late career interpretations of the Goldberg Variations (1956/82), his plucky repetitive melodies reminding me of Steve Reich and John Cage. I became more familiar with Bach’s wider oeuvre, and not just the works for harpsicord (today more often played on piano), after watching The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach (1968), a biopic of the composer told through the diaries of his wife and arranged around key historic performances, mostly filmed in their original locations.

Yo Yo Ma
Yo Yo Ma performing Prélude, Suite No. 1 by Bach for Nebula Studios

The settings evoke a sense of intimate familiarity with the artist, and gave me a new, close-up appreciation for a figure made so large by his popularity. Yo Yo Ma’s 1983 recording of Bach’s cello suites shares this quality with the film. The spaces between the notes are so emphasized, you could almost hear the chair squeak beneath Ma.

The Summing Up, W. Somerset Maugham

This is a bizarre little book that’s part-memoir, part-literary treatise by the crotchety Maugham, who expected it to be his last (he went on to write plenty more and live another 25 years). All said, it’s a fascinating read, filled with notable titbits about style, craft and which philosophers are worth reading (Spinoza, by the way).

Main image: Film poster for No Bears (2022) by Jafar Panahi. Courtesy: Celluloid Dreams

Marko Gluhaich is associate editor of frieze. He lives in New York, USA.