THERE IS NO EVIL (Sheytan Vojud Nadarad)
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Mohammad Rasoulof
Writer: Mohammad Rasoulof
Cast: Ehsan Mirhosseini, Shaghayegh Shourian, Kaveh Ahangar, Mohammad Valizadegan, Mahtab Servati, Mohammad Seddighimehr, Baran Rasoulof, Jilla Shahi
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/4/21
Opens: May 14, 2021
Jean-Paul Sartre once said that “It is only in our decisions that we are important.” “There Is No Evil” is a feature film with four stories, unrelated to one another except in the theme of how decisions make each central character important. The first three deal with executions in Iran: how the principal character in each story makes up his mind whether to go along with orders or to defy them, which tells us much about the writer-director, Mohammad Rasoulof, who has been sentenced to prison and whose every feature film has been banned from exhibition in his country.
One can see how the absolutist government of Iran would not want citizens exposed to people who make personal decisions to override what others expect of them or, in one case, to go along without compunction to perform a task that few of us would agree to voluntarily.
The first episode is untitled, and though this is the one that has the least melodrama, it has the most effect. Rasoulof respects his audience to the extent that he will show his protagonist, Heshmat (Ehsan Mirhosseini), driving around Tehran, seemingly aimless, with no consequential occurrences anticipated. When he picks up his schooolteacher wife Razieh (Shaghayegh Shourian), she bickers and complains about little things, projecting the ease with which she trusts her husband not to go ballistic with anything she says. She picks up his check in the bank, complaining about red tape that she must go through to have the salary released to her. Razieh must wonder what he does on the night shift when he gets up at three in the morning and pulls away with his car. When he goes about his task without thinking or considering its ethics, we know more about him than his wife does.
The second installment, with the title “She said, you can do it,” is the kind of episode that a general American audience would like given the histrionics that take place in a military detention center. In Rasoulot’s most theatrical story given how much of the action unfolds inside the barracks among a group of soldiers, Pouya (Kaveh Ahangar) trusts his fellows to sympathize with his terror. He has been ordered to execute a man by pushing the stool out from under him, which would result in the man’s death by hanging. But his fellows, with one exception, debate as though in a college freshman bull session about whether a person under orders has the right, even the duty, to disobey if he considers the order immoral. When the time comes for Pouya to obey, which would give him the chance to be released from the prison and get some time off, we leave the theatrical in favor of upheaval.
In “The Birthday,” Javad (Mohammad Valizadegan), a soldier with a three-day pass takes a bath in the woods before visiting his fiancée, Nana (Mahtab Servati). We can see that the immersion in water is a self-designed baptism: the news he feels compelled to give is hardly designed to allow her and her family to reconsider whether his visit is a good one. Sometimes the less you say—becoming more like Heshmat in the first episode—is the most desirable way to go. In any case, going back to Sartre’s quote “It is only in our decisions that we are important,” Javad becomes the man of the hour: his fifteen minutes of fame or infamy.
“Kiss Me” is unusual in that it does not feel it belongs with the other three under the theme of executions. Bahram (Mohammad Seddighimehr), is a dying man who lives with his wife Zaman (Jilla Shahi) in a remote area cut off from other people but immersed in the raising of bees. He picks up his young niece Darya (Baran Rasoulof, who is the director’s daughter) on a visit from Germany where she lives with Bahram’s brother. She becomes attached to Bahram, disturbed when he coughs up blood, and could have returned to Germany with tender views of her uncle. However, there is tension in the air. We wait for an announcement that will change the college girl’s attitude forever. Given the overlong running time of the film, “Kiss Me” could have easily been left for a future narrative, assuming that the next offering could be smuggled out of the country like this one. We can see how in an absolutist nation like Iran, none of the writer-director’s films have been exhibited at home.
150 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B