michalwasilewski
7th June 2020

Review: There Is No Evil

There Is No Evil consists of four novels highlighting the reality of Iran’s capital punishment, writes Michal Wasilewski
Review: There Is No Evil

In the last decade, Iran has once again proved itself to be one of the most prominent countries producing art-house cinema, with directors like Asghar Farhadi (two-time Oscar winner for A Separation and The Salesman) and Jafar Panahi (Golden Bear winner for Taxi Teheran) remaining in the spotlight. This year’s Berlin Film Festival has proven that despite major repressions from the authoritarian regime, Iranian cinema is still in a great shape, as the festival’s main prize was awarded to Mohammad Rasoulof’s There Is No Evil.

Rasoulof won the 2017 Un Certain Regard section in Cannes with A Man Of Integrity, becoming the focus of the Iranian government. He was sentenced to one year in prison and received a filmmaking ban. However, it didn’t stop him from creating another open critique aimed at the government.

There Is No Evil is an anthology consisting of four standalone short pieces brought together by their main subject, capital punishment. Doubtful judicial process and political repressions, which are often a focus of works critiquing death penalty, are not in the spotlight here. Rasoulof concentrates on a rarely considered side of the problem: those ordered to conduct an execution. In Iran, a country with obligatory military service for young men, conscripted soldiers are often those who have to carry out this task (later rewarded with a three day leave pass).

However, the film starts straying away from any soldiers and any sense of the subject that will be brought on later. We follow an ordinary day for middle-aged Heshmat. We see him picking up his wife from work, caring for his mother, treating his daughter with a pizza dinner. 

But not every Iranian feels as comfortable as him, and many of them cannot cope with the harsh reality of what the regime demands of them. In the second novel we meet Pouya, a young conscript who is soon to conduct his first execution. He is panicking and desperately tries to bail out, as other soldiers tell him that avoiding to follow orders will simply result in a longer service.

They remind him that no one is sentenced to death without a proper reason. But both we, as viewers, and Pouya, know more than well that it is not the case. Half of death sentences worldwide are those in Iran, and the fundamentalist authoritarian regime targets political activists and journalists at least as often as the worst criminals. There Is No Evil‘s director knows it as well, himself being named a propagandist and a threat to national security.

The remaining two shorts focus on yet another point, as we see how following or obeying the orders can influence personal environment of those involved – the neighbours, closest friends and family.

There Is No Evil is bluntly clear in its message, combining the four novels into a net of terrifying ‘behind-the-scenes’ dilemmas and struggles. Although the latter two novels themselves may not stand out compared to a perfectly subtle eponymous one and action-packed second one, they are well suited to paint a bigger picture and put Rasoulof’s feature among the strongest and most powerful films advocating for human rights.

3.5/5.

Michal Wasilewski

Michal Wasilewski

Managing Editor of Culture for The Mancunion.

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