There Is No Evil
Director Mohammad Rasoulof’s There Is No Evil is essentially a series of four short films, thematically linked, but with no overarching narrative. They can be enjoyed in isolation, and given the evolution of how video is consumed nowadays (such as on a pausable VOD platform), when this is combined with diminishing attention spans, chances are they will be. When presented as a two-and-a-half-hour feature, a direct comparison between the segments will be inevitable. Unfortunately, the film is front-loaded, with the first section being by far the most satisfactory. The subsequent components are perfectly respectable, but given the lack of a storyline running throughout its entirety, it would have been preferable to go out on a high, rather than with a shrug.
The first part appears to be a piece of deliberately sedate domestic realism, in an Iranian style. Admittedly, its potency comes from a late-in-the-game reveal, and it would have been more compelling if the following stories also employed this device, even though the movie would then run the risk of turning into a game of spot the twist. The continuing theme emerges as a commentary (one of vehement disgust) on Iran’s capital punishment, and this criticism throughout his filmography has resulted in significant trouble for Rasoulof. Iran’s government has forbidden him from leaving the country, meaning he was not at Berlinale to present the project himself.
Deceptively humdrum domesticity is followed by soldiers on execution duty frantically trying to avoid being the one who carries out the death penalty, succeeded by a soldier on leave to visit his girlfriend, and then by a reclusive doctor harbouring a secret. Individually worthwhile (with the first being concisely excellent), the overall effectiveness of There Is No Evil is somewhat curtailed by its anthology-style format
Perhaps the dialogue was a bit more affecting in the original Farsi, but the sentiments expressed via subtitles come across as ideologically simplistic, even though the message for change is profound. It’s not helped by the soap-operatic nature of the drama, with much of the intended emotional heaviness coming from revelations that don’t appear to have much of a narrative foundation. There Is No Evil is worthy and strikingly bold when considering its target. This doesn’t add up to a truly stirring experience, but one that still deserves great admiration.
There Is No Evil is released in select cinemas on 3rd December 2021.
Watch the trailer for There Is No Evil here: