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Thread: Mohammad rasoulof: There is no evil (2020)

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    Mohammad rasoulof: There is no evil (2020)



    But there also is no good

    Anglophone critics have differed on whether Mohammad Rasoulof's latest film is masterful or flawed. It is certainly interesting, morally earnest (it is a cry, in defiance, like his countryman Panahi, of house arrest and a ban on making films, against Iran's rampant use of the death penalty), and intermittently beautiful to look at. Plainly ironic in title, it consists of four related stories on the death penalty theme in different styles, "four films for the price of one," as Peter Debruge says in his Variety review. It comes to virtual screening at the AFI Film Festival and available to stream from Kino Lorber Oct. 16-22 bedecked with honors, three top prizes at the Berlinale, including the Golden Bear.

    Not only does Iran carry out an exceptional number of governmental executions, more per capita than any other nation, but it often forces men serving in the military to carry them out as part of their duties. A perusal of the Wikipedia article about Capital Punishment in Iran will show the death penalty is imposed there for such offenses as homosexuality, fornication, political dissidence and arson. But Rasoulof's film does not look at this, or more than glimpse the act of state killing itself. Insteadit focuses on those who choose to carry out government-sanctioned murder, either for a living or while in military service, or who with various consequences refuse.

    All this, the making of the film, the director's most boldly anti-government work yet, was done in open defiance of the government's lifetime ban on filmmaking and sentence (not carried out) of a year in prison. To this end, some of the parts, especially the last, were shot out in the country where Rasoulof could work without being noticed. Scenes in more populated areas were carried out by assistant directors. The result, in contrast to Jafar Panai's response to the government's filmmaking ban, This Is Not a Film (NYFF 2011), which is a "low-res conceptual video essay," is, in contrast, one of the most beautiful Iranian films in years, with crystal clear lensing, delicate colors, and gorgeous images of people and landscapes, particularly in the last two parts, which take place in the country, the third around a dacha-like country villa, good-looking young protagonists, and a beautiful verdant woodland stream; the fourth in a mountainous, striking desert area with wolves and a trio of good actors, the youngest the director's own daughter, Baran Rasoulof. (But, like Panahi's film, it had to be smuggled out of Iran to Berlin - though many cast members, everyone but Rasoulof, could come to Berlin, with all of its problems, to bathe in the glory.)

    This is particularly a set of stories reliant on the element of surprise, so for those who want to experience that desired effect, you will not want to read any full descriptions of the plots - which we'll skip here, since this is a review for potential viewers, not an essay for film students. But note that it's impossible to talk about the relation among the parts of There Is No Evil without delving at least somewhat into what happens.

    But avoiding spoilers, we can talk about the contrasting genres. I've noted before that Rasoulof has played around with those. He went from "intriguingly poetic films" like Iron Island (2005) and The White Meadows (2009) to his "grimly claustrophobic" and "cold" study of bureaucratic repression Goodbye (ND/NF 2011), somewhat in the manner of Farhadi's A Separation. From the looks of them his last two (which I haven't seen) are a thriller, Manuscripts Don't Burn (2013) and a political drama set in a village, A Man of Integrity (2017).

    Here, we get not just four films in one but four different contrasting genres as well (with brief blackouts between them). The first, the titular "There Is No Evil," is a detailed, monotonous study of one man's ordinary day-to-day life with his wife and daughter, involving much confined shooting in a car, perhaps a homage to Kiarostami's Ten. This segment has a big shocker of an O. Henry surprise ending. Numerous reviewers have thought it's the best, even by far, of the parts; to me it seems a bit of a cheap trick and for most of its run-time rather a bore, though it may be the most effectively thought-provoking on the theme of all.

    The second, "She Said, 'You Can Do It,'" is a theatrical-style thriller, with a lot of it taking place in the confines of a prison-like barracks setting focused on a soldier assigned to carry out a government execution the next day who debates the situation with fellow soldiers and contemplates an escape, and a fun ending. The third, "Birthday," is a sharp contrast. Where the previous part, even the first two, were in one way or another largely confined and grim, this segment, which at first - which seems a flaw, unless it's intentional, in which it's a mistake -) seems a continuation of the previous one (the two protagonists somewhat resemble each other), finds a young man coming out into the country, a soldier on leave to see his fiancée, for her birthday, when he's going to put a ring on her finger. Repeatedly he will go to a stream, a lovely place surrounded by greenery, wash in it, and later seem to want to drown in it. This is a romantic, lovely short film. But, like the others, it turns grim.

    The final segment is the most complicated, contemplative, and interesting, focused on a bearded, serene man who lives with his wife far out in a mountainous desert region. But at the outset they go to the airport to collect his niece, who has long lived in Germany studying medicine and has almost forgotten Iran, and even sometimes lapses into German. This will be a series of slow revelations. The trouble is that maybe there is more here than at last the non-Iranian viewer can digest.

    The overall title is also the title of the first segment, in Farsi is "Satan doesn't exist," which is perhaps an allusion to the banality of evil as in the title of Hannah Arendt's famous 1963 New Yorker article about Adolf Eichmann. If there is a Satan it is a collective Satan: the Iranian state. We cannot judge its victims. But others may.

    It's always seemed that Iranian was the most consistently un-fun of world cinemas (for increasingly justifiable reasons). But There Is No Evil demonstrates that Iran's is more than ever undeniably one of the most important and fascinating of the world's cinemas.

    There Is No Evil شیطان وجود ندارد (Satan Does Not Exist), 151 mins., debuted at the Berlinale Feb. 28, 2020, winning there the Golden Bear, the Guild Film Prize, and the Ecumenical Award. Also Taipei, Transylvania, Crested Butte (virtual), Hamburg, Bordeaux. It will be available for virtual screening at AFI Film Festival Oct 16-22, 2020). Go HERE. Metascore: 81.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-15-2020 at 06:40 PM.


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