Whether you’re a fan of Iranian cinema or had never watched an Iranian movie before, Mohammed Rasoulof’s There is No Evil is a must-watch.
The original Farsi title of the film is: Satan doesn’t exist, which I thought is more powerful than the milder English title choice for it. The movie consists of four different stories with a common theme: execution by hanging, the capital punishment in Iran.
The director has an unlikely approach to this issue: he explores it from the point of view of the executioners. The first story is of Heshmat the family man whose daily routine includes picking up his wife and daughter from school, grocery shopping and helping his old mother-in-law. However, this exceedingly contradicts the job he drives to each morning and performs apathetically.
The second story is of Pouya, the military conscript who’s horrified by the idea of having to execute a man as part of his service. The conversation he has with his other four mates before carrying the orders is moralistic: does he have the right to end somebody’s life even when he’s given the orders? What if that person is innocent? How would he live the rest of his life carrying this heavy burden? What if he refuses out of his free will?
Most importantly, how could Pouya escape from this situation? The third story is of another military conscript that has been given three days off. He surprises his girlfriend with his visit yet is shocked to learn about an execution that happened to someone they both knew. How could that affect his morals and their relationship? The last story is of a doctor who lives in a rural area and is visited by his friend’s daughter. Unlike the other stories, this one is slow and seems to be disconnected from the rest. Nevertheless, there is an intriguing and unexpected twist at the end that links it directly to the second story. Rasoulof’s message is clear: hanging is inhumane and unacceptable in this day and age. Its psychological impact propagates on everyone from executioners to victims’ families. Heshmat — the character from the first story — is obviously keeping his profession a secret from his family. He’s living a double life that he can’t share nor feels happy about.
Moreover, the philosophical cell debate in the second story is shocking at times, especially when hearing the conscripts describing the experience of pulling the chair from under the accused feet as ‘an inevitable part of their duty.’ Unfortunately, without military service, these young men can’t have insurance, or passports or be able to trade according to Iranian laws. The director uses certain scenes to describe the character’s psyche and what they’re going through. For example, the walls that keep facing Pouya in the cell signify his sense of entrapment. In March 2020, Rasoulof was sentenced to one year in prison for three of his movies that were considered ‘anti-governmental propaganda. The sentence is still not served due to Covid-19 fears. He was also banned from film-making for two years. However, this movie was secretly shot although you could never tell as scenes were filmed on crowded streets and in scenic landscapes such as rivers and mountains. The movie was smuggled out of Iran to win the Golden Bear for best feature in Berlin’s 70th film festival in 2020, the third Iranian movie to win this prize after A Separation (2015) and Taxi (2015).
‘There is no evil’ is about moral choices and how making them could affect the rest of our lives. A masterpiece. Available on Netflix.
Rasha al Raisi is a certified skills trainer and the author of: The World According to Bahja. email@example.com