The Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof’s film “There Is No Evil” (Golden Bear Award, Berlin Festival, 2021) is extraordinary on a number of levels—political daring in a country where dissent or criticism is harshly punished, as well as narrative. Four chapters or stories, unrelated, maintain throughout a profound tension, not with special effects or major reveals but by dint of taking us deep into what a brutal regime does to its people and how these, resilient as they come, live their life as though it’s okay to come up daily or even minute by minute against obstacles, unpleasantness, problems with twisted solutions–when any–family drama, and the constant, deep fear of what authorities can decide to do or not, with no clear rationale for either choice.
The sense of dread is helped in no small measure by the fact that all four stories tell a tale of execution, Iran being, along with China, the top world purveyor of capital punishment to its citizens.
For this Iranian, used to the multiple ways Iranian directors in particular and the Iranian cultural world in general manage to convey stealthily but prudently much about the awful Islamic Republic’s crimes, its general corruption and the dark cloud hanging over the population, “There Is No Evil” is surprising in its unvarnished chronicle, including unexpected scenes such as fairly clear exchanges of affection in unmarried couples. No surprise, with further reading it transpires that the author has been in trouble with the authorities for the last several years and that the present film, with its four bold tales visually arresting in a variety of settings, from capital city traffic jams to stark and bare mountain scenery, yet never losing track of the stories, was made in a semi-clandestine manner right inside Iran. Adding to the puzzle of how these gifted directors manage to escape having a noose put around their neck and continue with their rich contributions to the best world cinema has to offer, year after year and from major award to major award.