FNC reviews: Coma, No Bears and Human Flowers of Flesh 

Bertrand Bonello’s quarantine film, Jafar Panahi’s radical politics and the sensuality of the sea in the latest from Helena Wittmann.

The 51st edition of the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma runs from Oct. 5 to 16. To read our previous FNC 2022 reviews, please click here.


Asking someone what they did during quarantine is a new way to quickly get to know a stranger. In my experience, answers vary from detailing new skills (bread-baking, learning Korean) to the confessional (depression, emotional breakthroughs, etc.). For his latest film Coma, Bertrand Bonello ventures into the claustrophobic indoors, but by no means is the film a chamber piece. Bonello has fun colouring outside the lines as he delves into the inner life of a teenage girl (Zombi Child’s Louise Labeque) quarantining alone inside her Paris apartment.

As a side note, I don’t know what rents are like in Paris, but I would imagine that a one-bedroom apartment would be out of reach for most teenagers? That’s only one way in which Coma eschews realism.

The unnamed teenager spends her time staging soap-opera-style dramas with her Barbie and Ken dolls and watching videos by Patricia Coma (Julia Faure), a bizarre YouTuber. Bonello uses several techniques and styles to render both the claustrophobia of quarantine and the internal chaos of spending it online. Animated scenes, FaceTime calls, Trump parodies, archival footage and scenes shot in first person point-of-view all jumble together to create a kind of formalist clin d’œil. Blink, and you’ll miss it. In what feels like scenes from a nightmarish RPG, Labeque’s character walks around a dark forest referred to as the “Free Zone,” her heavy breathing punctuated with an NPC’s wrenching screams. Is this a metaphor for doomscrolling? 

Coma appears most interested in the confusing and, at times, violent impulses that surround teenage girls, and which feel especially unavoidable during quarantine. However, not all of his ideas and experiments coalesce into a decipherable question. If the idea is to get a strong sense of who this teenage girl is, then the film never reaches that level of introspection. But perhaps that’s beside the point. After all, not everyone had an emotional breakthrough during quarantine. Some just spent way too much time on TikTok. (Sarah Foulkes)

Coma screens on Friday, Oct. 14 at 9:30 p.m. at Cinéplex Quartier Latin.

No Bears

No Bears (directed by Jafar Panahi)

If you were to take a film seminar on “the politics of the image,” chances are that you’d watch a Jafar Panahi film. Often melding documentary and fiction elements, Panahi’s films question the unstable power of the image. No Bears is the last film Panahi made before being sentenced to six years in prison after questioning the arrests of fellow Iranian filmmakers Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Al-Ahmad. God-willing, it won’t be his last. The film follows Panahi as he directs a film from the confines of a small rented room in a border town. The film within the film, which is being shot in Turkey, stages a couple’s struggle to secure fake passports so they can escape Iran for France. But his internet connection is unstable, and directing through Zoom significantly slows the process, despite his dedicated collaborators. He has nightly meetings with his assistant director, who delivers the hard drives and proposes to him a plan to be smuggled into Turkey. One day, while the connection is especially bad, Panahi goes on an aimless walk with his digital camera and takes pictures of the locals. In one key moment, he aims it off-camera.

Soon after, we’ll discover the importance of that off-screen space. A group of village elders visit Panahi asking to see his picture of a couple in a forbidden relationship. Panahi claims to have never taken such a picture, but the elders won’t concede. They want their evidence. But what problems do images solve? And what problems do these images, or even the simple idea of them, create?

No Bears is a vital film, rendered even more poignant with the ongoing anti-government protests following the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the morality police. Despite the steep price Panahi has paid for speaking out against his government, he is thoughtful about his privilege as a celebrated filmmaker. Not only does he have the support of the global film community, but he possesses the power (and perils) of image-making. He puts himself in front of and behind the camera, crafting the image of his self-exposure. (Justine Smith)

No Bears screens (with English subtitles) on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022 at 7 p.m. at Cinéma du Musée (1379A Sherbrooke W.)

Human Flowers of Flesh 

Human Flowers of Flesh (directed by Helena Wittmann)

Sound design is essential in Helena Wittmann’s Human Flowers of Flesh. The conventions of privileging human voices and pulling white noise from silence are ignored. The sound of the sea, in particular, feels like an omnipresent source of the uncanny. While not traditionally structured (or made), the film follows Ida (Greek actress, Angeliki Papoulia, best known for her lead role in Dogtooth) who lives on a sailing yacht with five men and her growing fascination with the French foreign legion. In direct conversation with Claire Denis’s masterpiece Beau Travail, Wittmann distills the images further than the choreographed dances of desire present in Denis’s film. Here the rituals of the service are more alien, faint memories injected with real and assumed violence. Much like another film playing at the festival, Albert Serra’s Pacifiction (which we reviewed as part of our TIFF coverage), the movie explores the lingering, poisoning impact of European colonial involvement. 

The film’s greatest strength, though, remains its hypnotic beauty. Somehow, Wittmann finds new ways of shooting the breathtaking and sensual sea. Both sound and image are so rich that you could almost touch them. By embracing the haptic, the film pulls into dreams’ strange patterns and observations. Shot on textured 16mm, it not only deepens the film’s darkest moments but enlivens them with movement. One of many films in this year’s program that contrast humanity’s smallness with nature’s enormity, as the film explores the remnants of French colonial rule in Algeria, there’s still a sense of danger and blight that overcomes our insignificance. (JS)

Human Flowers of Flesh screens on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2:30 p.m. at the Cinémathèque Québécoise (335 de Maisonneuve). 

For the complete Festival du Nouveau Cinéma program, please click here.

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