There Is No Evil review: Iranian film that won the Golden Bear at Berlinale 2020 could be the next global blockbuster

Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof’s There Is No Evil won the top honour, the Golden Bear, at Berlinale, the Berlin International Film Festival.

Prathap Nair March 02, 2020 16:49:06 IST
There Is No Evil review: Iranian film that won the Golden Bear at Berlinale 2020 could be the next global blockbuster

Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof’s There Is No Evil - Sheytan vojud nadarad - won the top honour, the Golden Bear, at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Following his 2011 Cannes appearance for his work Goodbye, Rasoulof and fellow auteur Jafar Panahi have been in trouble with the Iranian authoritarian regime. It came to a head when Rasoulof, returning from the Telluride Film Festival in 2017 after screening his A Man of Integrity, had his passport confiscated by the authorities. His movies too are banned in the country.

Stuck in his home country, Rasoulof made There Is No Evil using his assistants and other compatriots. What transpires on screen is a gloriously shot film, with impeccable technical finesse, his assistants even directing in locations where it would be dangerous to have Rasoulof present himself. In Skype interviews from Tehran, Rasoulof has revealed that he made his assistants obtain permission from the authorities for four short films. To avoid scrutiny from the regime, Rasoulof’s name wasn’t present in any of the application forms.

With a running time of two and a half hours, There Is No Evil presents four stories interconnected by a theme. Its characters are executioners, employed by the state, to hang or shoot the dissidents of the regime. While some of them go on leading normal lives while carrying out the horrifying executions, some rebel. The moral compass of everyone is skewed — some are executioners so they can continue to live a normal life with their family, while some rebel because they can’t bear the agonising guilt of the whole exercise.

There Is No Evil review Iranian film that won the Golden Bear at Berlinale 2020 could be the next global blockbuster

A still from There Is No Evil. Image from Youtube.

The film opens with the segment eponymously titled There Is No Evil in which the stoic Ehsan Mirhosseini playing Heshmat drives around Tehran running chores for his family – picking up his wife and daughter, buying groceries, taking care of his ailing mother. It is not until the penultimate scene of the segment that the viewer is jolted into the truth of his profession.

In the second section, She Said, You Can Do It, a soldier Pouya played by Kaveh Ahangar rebels from his position of first executioner after staging a mini coup in the prison and makes a run for it with the help of his girlfriend.

Perhaps the most beautiful of all the segments is called Birthday in which a soldier, played by Mohammad Valizadegan, gets to the country house of his girlfriend after obtaining a three-day off from his service. A beautiful story of romance set in the countryside, the twist in the tale appears in the end when his girlfriend Nana realises how his three-day leave came to be.

In the final segment titled Kiss Me, an expat Iranian German girl Darya, played by the director’s daughter, Baran Rasoulof, arrives in Iran to meet with her uncle’s family. The family tensions are highlighted as hidden stories and truth about the family come to light.

Rasoulof’s film is full of stunning shots of the Iranian countryside and vignettes from Tehran. By juxtaposing the underlying guilt and tainted morality with the daily ordinariness of human lives, the film unsettles its viewers. In perhaps naming the movie such, Rasoulof has a sinister implication – each of us has evil within us, it only leads to our moral ruin if we don’t stand up to it. Just as we need to stand up to evil outside even if it can lead to our ruin.

It’s too early, although not presumptuous entirely, to prophesy that There Is No Evil could become a global blockbuster like Parasite. With actors who have electrifying screen presence and globally relatable themes of oppression and human resilience, it would be entirely deserving for There Is No Evil to replicate Parasite’s success.

While Rasoulof’s films have been banned in Iran, the producers of There Is No Evil are now on the lookout for global distributors.

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