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‹ Flicks with The Film Snob

There Is No Evil

August 16, 2023
Flicks with The Film Snob
Flicks with The Film Snob
There Is No Evil

An Iranian film tells four stories courageously exposing the effects of pervasive state violence on ordinary people.

There Is No Evil
, a film by Iranian writer and director Mohammad Rasoulof, consists of four separate stories, and if you come to the movie cold, it might be difficult to discover a connecting theme between them. In the first story, we watch an ordinary looking middle-aged man drive his car out of a big parking garage, and then go about his day, dropping his daughter off at school, shopping, picking up his wife, going to the bank, visiting his mother-in-law, and eventually going home to an early bedtime so he gets enough sleep to do the night shift again. The style, patient and leisurely paced, closely observes a lot of everyday detail about life in an Iranian city. Then, at the very end of the story, we’re given a shock.

There are some movies that it’s hard to say much of anything about, because, well, reviews aren’t supposed to have “spoilers.” In this case, however, most people outside of Iran will struggle with understanding the film without some background. This I need to mention: the fact that the background explains the theme is too bad—but to make up for that, I won’t reveal the particular ways that the theme occurs as action.

The background is that the government of Iran, after the 1979 revolution, executed many thousands of dissidents, leftists, secularists, and anyone else deemed an enemy of the Islamic Republic. This continued through the 1990s, when writers and intellectuals were targeted for elimination. Furthermore, the government would order other prisoners, soldiers, even family members, to participate in these executions, by kicking the stool away from people to be hanged. The four stories in There is No Evil each concern people who, at some time or another, in some form, were ordered to carry out executions.

The wildly intense second story is about an inmate in a soldier’s prison who is told that if he executes a prisoner, his sentence will be significantly shortened. The third story follows a young soldier on leave who visits his fiancée and her family in the country, then discovers to his dismay that she is mourning a man who had stayed with them, and had recently died. No, she insists, it was not romantic—he was an activist and mentor whom she admired. The final story shows us a married couple in a remote part of the country who are visited by their niece, a medical student, on the suggestion of her father. Her aunt and uncle are small farmers, and while the uncle shows her around, and talks about things like how a fox ate all their chickens, she wonders why this man, a skilled doctor, gave up his practice to do this.

Each story is unique. Each shows a different segment of Iran and society. And the effect of the theme is noticeably different in each, but in essence the moral emergency is the same. Can you look yourself in the mirror after executing a human being?

Rasoulof has gotten negative attention before. He had this film shot in secret (amazing when you look at the beauty of the visuals here) and then smuggled out of Iran. It promptly won the Golden Bear, the top prize at Berlin. It was then banned in Iran, of course, and the government put Rasoulof in prison. This is the price of a truthful film in today’s Iran.

The title, There Is No Evil, by the way, is ironic. We have a habit of looking at evil as if it were somebody else.

executions,   guilt,   Iran,   resistance,   trauma,  


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