The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema/VOD] - THERE IS NO EVIL | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Cinema/VOD] - THERE IS NO EVIL

there is no evil review
Anthology of stories examining capital punishment in Iran.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Mohammad Rasoulof

Starring: Ehsan Mirhosseini, Shaghayegh Shourian, Kaveh Ahangar, Alireza Zareparast, Salar Khamseh, Kaveh Ebrahim

there is no evil poster

According to a recent human rights report, Iran has the highest number of executions per capita in the world, and over the last three years has state sanctioned the murder of 800 people. Not that it is a competition, but in comparison the US has killed 49 people in this way over the same period, which is, at least, less than half the 112 which they executed during the first years of the decade. Japan, meanwhile, which still legislates capital punishment, has not enacted this ultimate sanction for 10 years. Which goes to show that progress can be made - a heartening truth for the Iranian makers of There Is No Evil, a notional portmanteau which takes the death penalty as its theme and, due to the potentially contentious nature of the subject’s presentation, was made in private and subsequently smuggled out of the country (to win the Golden Bear at Berlin - hurrah!).

It is not too dramatic to suggest that writer/director Mohammad Rasoulof, along with his cast and crew, risked their lives to make this film. When we look at the exhaustive list of what people can be executed for in Iran certain transgressions could hardly be considered a crime in the first place: this is, after all, a country whose laws equate the sexual abuse of children as tantamount to consensual relationships between two same-sex adults, with a man being hung for the act of ‘livat’ as recently as 2019. It is important though, There Is No Evil reminds us, not to associate the populace of a country with its government (perhaps especially when their ‘leader’ is an undemocratically elected octogenarian who has been in situ since before you were probably born), and appropriately Rasoulef’s intensely considered film takes as its focus varied citizens of Iran and their tangential, and, the narrative suggests, inevitable, links to the process of capital punishment. A quick caveat: as purposeful discussion of the treatment of There Is No Evil’s themes necessitate considering the ideological conclusions of certain narratives then spoilers are inescapable, I’m afraid!

there is no evil review

Following on from that disclosure, let’s look at the first (and most powerful/best) of There Is No Evil’s quadrilogy, which focuses on a Typical Bloke in Tehran. We see Heshmet (Ehsan Mirhosseini), driving back from a day’s work to pick up his wife (a schoolteacher who phatically informs him of her day), and then his little girl. Later, he drives to care for his elderly mother, before driving (always driving) back to work. The events of the previous passage are presented in extensive, absorbing detail - an immaculate everyday verisimilitude which is anchored by Heshmet’s faraway gaze. At the end of the half hour segment, we finally discover what Heshmet’s job involves, and by implication the reason for his jaded stare, when he pulls the leaver on a hanging platform and essentially kills a group of condemned men. The moment is calculated to shock, but on reflection we see how Rasoulef pointedly suggests the inescapability of Heshmet’s situation. Throughout the segment it is as if Heshmet is a sort of automaton, enacting everyday responsibilities with a uniform listlessness which makes surviving the ramifications of his job possible. The sequence’s punchline is inexorably upsetting, with the apparent moral that the conflicted executioner is a person just like us.

The proverbial suggestion of Heshmet’s story may seem elementary, but didacticism is not Rasoulef’s sole objective - instead, what ‘There is No Evil’ (the title of both this segment and the film) also does is establish the director’s overriding theme, which concerns freedoms and the cruel restrictions, both mental and physical, placed upon these liberties in Iran.

there is no evil review

The second segment picks up with another potential executioner, this one a solider who, as part of his duty, has to kill a dissident. Understandably, the lad doesn’t want to do it, and set in army barracks this sequence further tightens the loose claustrophobia of the opening to bends level pressure as our protagonist plots to avoid his unwanted responsibilities. Underlining his argument, Rasoulef ends this story with a glorious visual contrast of wide-open space and speeding cars as characters rush towards new destinies, the filmmaker rewarding their integrity and courage with the infinite romance of an open night sky.

For a guerrilla film, There Is No Evil isn’t half lovely to look at. In its third sequence, a doomed love story set in a folkloric forest, the imagery is especially astonishing. Here we see a soldier whose predicament parallels his second story counterpart, but whose circumstances are compromised in different ways. The final sequence, based around the metaphor of fox hunting, is perhaps the film’s most personal segment, explicating sentiments which were aloofly implied in the film’s opening; that this sequence features the director's own daughter (the brilliant Baran Rasoulof) in a pivotal role within a familial drama suggests further intimacy between artist and subject.

there is no evil review

This is a film which is powered by an incisive morality, and which looks at shameful aspects of its country in a complex yet unavoidably subjective manner. And so ‘awarding’ There Is No Evil a summative grade becomes tricky. In terms of cultural worth and social contexts, it is the most important film I’ve seen all year, and for its message and ethics (which conveniently reflects my own) it is full marks and no wonder Berlin gave There Is No Evil its highest accolade.

Well implemented intentions do not necessitate good filmmaking, however, and so it is fortunate that, despite some longueurs which allow characters to live and breathe but also pad out the running time to a pace which is occasionally interminable, for the most part There Is No Evil offers pristine and deeply human filmmaking. Rasoulof’s impassioned rhetoric is communicated through detailed character portrayal and a layered rendition of a flawed country.

There Is No Evil is in UK cinemas and on VOD from December 3rd.

2021 movie reviews