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Reviews November 2022 - Reform Magazine

Reviews November 2022

A repressive Islamist regime

No Bears
Directed by Jafar Panahi
Certificate 12a, 106 minutes
Released 11 November

The Iranian director Jafar Panahi (whose son Panar made the excellent road movie Hit the Road) has been in trouble with the country’s repressive Islamist regime for some time and earlier this year was given six years in prison. The campaign to #freejafarpanahi is worth our support, and this release is timely considering what is happening in Iran now.

In No Bears, Jafar plays a fictionalised version of himself, a film director not allowed to leave Iran who is staying near the Iran/Turkey border attempting to remotely direct a film shooting in Turkey about people trying to emigrate from a repressive regime. He’s been assured the local internet will work well, but it doesn’t.

Constantly curious about the world around him, he persuades a local to borrow his camera and shoot a foot-washing ceremony for soon-to-be married couples. However, the hapless man screws it up, confusing the pause and play buttons, and shoots material far more inflammatory than he intends.

Later, there are rows both about Panahi’s visiting the Turkish border and his taking an incriminating photograph of a couple where the girl has been promised by her family to a man she doesn’t love. The local authorities want Panahi to hand over the picture, despite his protest that no such picture exists.

At one point, a man talks Panahi out of going for a walk in a particular direction because the route is beset by bears. Later, the same man admits it’s fake news: there are no bears. Most of the time, no one ever tells Panahi exactly what they mean, resulting in an unspoken undercurrent of intimidation.

It’s hard to imagine a more genial presence than Panahi, and perhaps it’s his outgoing, friendly and sympathetic attitude that most annoys those who would control society on their own restrictive terms. He’s like an irrepressible fly in the ointment, a brave and commendable example to us all.

No Bears might well be the most sheerly engaging and entertaining film you’ll see this year, yet at the same time it speaks great truth to power within both its Iranian context, and, transcending that, our increasingly authoritarian wider world.

Jeremy Clarke is a film critic. His website is


Reconciliation work

The Power of Reconciliation
Justin Welby
Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN: 978-1-39940-297-2

In an age which is seen as increasingly divided and in which violent conflict, such as that between Russia and Ukraine, is coming to the fore, this is a helpful book on the theme of reconciliation.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has a wealth of personal experience of different contexts across the world. In this book he gives helpful in-depth examples from countries such as Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as drawing on the extensive work undertaken by Andrew White of Coventry, whom Welby describes as ‘one of the most effective peace builders I have met’.

Welby looks at reconciliation from a variety of perspectives, including the personal, the life of the family, the Church and local community, the political arena and the international dimension. This book does not present reconciliation as an easy option, but digs in depth to the issues that need to be addressed if reconciliation is to stand a chance of working…

Elizabeth Welch is a URC minister and Chair of the Society for Ecumenical Studies


Spiritual growing

This Blessed Plot: What I learned from my allotment
Hazel Southam
Canterbury Press
ISBN 978-1-78622-342-5

After three decades as a journalist travelling the world and telling other people’s stories, Hazel Southam experienced an epiphany. Talking with her mother about why she wasn’t married, she heard herself declare: ‘Honestly … I’d rather have an orchard than be married.’ A seed was sown which rapidly grew, not into an orchard as such – impossibly expensive – but into renting a neglected allotment near her home in Winchester. This book is a condensed month-by-month account of how over the next couple of years a weed infested patch of back-breakingly heavy clay was turned into a productive vegetable plot. For even a casual gardener the book is a delight, but it is also an inspirational account of healing, deepening, slowing, giving, and discovering true community along the way….

Ian Fosten is book reviews editor for Reform


Stopping war

The Peace Protestors: A history of modern-day war resistance
Symon Hill
Pen & Sword History
£25 hardback
ISBN: 978-1-39900-786-3

The new statutory offence of public nuisance introduced this summer by the UK Government reflects the disruption that public protest has caused to modern society. Symon Hill manages to encapsulate the tactics, drama and results of 42 years of peace protesting, from 1980 at Greenham Common to the 2021 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, into one volume.

This chronological account shares the stories of people in Great Britain and Northern Ireland who engaged in non-violent direct action and civil disobedience. It describes the motivations and actions of grassroots and nationally led resistance, offering political and social context at each turn, as well as fascinating and alarming insights from government records that have only recently been released to the public…

Roo Stewart is Programme Support Officer for URC Church and Society


Fifty years together

That They All May Be One: The story of the United Reformed Church
Stephen Tomkins
The United Reformed Church
ISBN 978-0-85346-366-5

Steve Tomkins has edited Reform for ten years. Previously he had little knowledge and even less experience of the United Reformed Church. Oddly, this makes him an ideal writer of a timely history of the denomination. With clear, thoughtful prose and occasional wry humour, he is a sympathetic, objective observer of those who sought to discern God’s will and purpose in our life together. Not relying on official reports or minutes, the book leans more heavily (and entertainingly) on interviews with key participants from 1972 to the present day and, intriguingly, from the letters pages of Reform. The result is a highly readable mosaic of perspectives and stories, and perceptions…

Ian Fosten is book reviews editor for Reform. Buy the book from


This article was published in the November 2022 edition of Reform

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