Film Review by Nick Kouhi
Mohammad Rasoulof observes the entropy of the soul with steady resilience. His films often contend with despair, their status as Siāhnamāyi (or depicting a dark or undesirable aspect of Iranian life) earning the ire and prohibition of the government. His eighth feature, There Is No Evil (sheytân vojūd nadârad), is no less critical of the societal malaise perpetuated by capital punishment Rasoulof perceives as pervading every facet of modern Iran. Divided into four thematically linked stories, Rasoulof’s script charts a subtle emotional trajectory through the ordering of its narratively discrete tales.
The first, following a day in the life of an executioner (Ehsan Mirhosseini), exudes a sense of entrapment through cinematographer Ashkan Ashkani’s claustrophobic framing and vaguely disquieting flashes of green and red. The second embodies escape as a young soldier (Kaveh Ahangar) finds himself unable to carry out an execution which will grant him a three-day leave.
Yet the final two stories, the first about another soldier (Mohammad Valizadegan) venturing to his girlfriend’s (Mahtab Servati) country house for her birthday and the second about an older couple (Mohammad Seddighimehr and Jila Shahi) hosting their visiting niece (the director’s daughter Baran), guide the film away from visceral yet no less harrowing intensity by surveying the consequences awaiting those who either obey a repressive regime or resist it. Any anthology film risks inconsistency among its various parts.
Thankfully, There Is No Evil avoids potential pitfalls by affording each tale enough space for raising trenchant inquiries surrounding personal and societal responsibility over its 150-minute running time, buffered by steadily rising tension before culminating in immaculately executed climaxes. If the film doesn’t provide concrete answers to the quandaries it raises, that’s entirely the point. By even questioning the normalization of brutal repression Rasoulof presents ethical exploration as a vital tactic for diametrically opposing the deadening brutality of blind subservience.