Told in four chapters, of which the first is a masterpiece, Rasoulof’s Golden Berlin Bear winner, unfortunately, falters in focus as it ambitiously tackles the taboo subject of capital punishment in Iran.
Dir. Mohammad Rasoulof
2020 | Iran | Drama | 151 mins | 2.35:1 | Persian & German
Not rated – likely to be PG13 for some mature themes
Cast: Baran Rasoulof, Mahtab Servati, Kaveh Ahangar
Plot: The four stories are variations on the themes of moral strength and the death penalty that ask to what extent individual freedom can be expressed under a despotic regime and its seemingly inescapable threats.
Awards: Won Golden Bear & Prize of the Ecumenical Jury (Berlin)
International Sales: Films Boutique
Subject Matter: Moderate – Society, Capital Punishment
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: General Arthouse
The first thing that came to my mind after seeing There Is No Evil was: how did this film win the Golden Berlin Bear?
Granted writer-director Mohammad Rasoulof (A Man of Integrity, 2017) hasn’t been in the good books of the Iranian government for many years and had to bravely shoot this film in secret, and that the picture deals with the taboo subject of capital punishment in the country, but these aren’t grounds for giving one of world cinema’s most prestigious awards to a work that is at best an ambitious fault, and at worst, a muddled misadventure.
Spanning 150 minutes long, There Is No Evil struggles to get to the finish line with its largely slow pacing. But told in four chapters, one might see it as four digestible shorts to get through, though they aren’t always intuitively or provocatively connected to the theme.
The first one, however, is a masterpiece, its mundanity providing a strong counterpoint to one of the most powerful endings I’ve experienced in recent years.
The second short functions more as a ‘prison thriller’, but it is tonally suspect. The third and fourth shorts are meandering meditations on the theme, with the latter so loosely connected to the death penalty that you wonder what really got Rasoulof interested in the first place, let alone egregiously placing it as the final chapter.
The characters in the four chapters show varying levels of psychological uncertainty amid their moral crises, but the film never produces a singular, tangible force that binds everything together—which is ironic because this is one man’s vision and not an omnibus featuring several filmmakers.