Review by Sean Boelman
There is something alluring about watching cinema that has been banned in their home country, especially when the reasons that led it to being censored are political. The Iranian film There Is No Evil would be pretty magnificent anyway, but the fact that its creation was an act of protest in and of itself makes it all the more impressive.
The movie is an anthology featuring four stories of people who are faced ethical dilemmas all centered around the death penalty. Yet even though the film deals with this subject matter that is extremely difficult, it isn’t the type of movie that is unbearably bleak to watch. Instead, filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof takes a more somber and meditative approach.
In terms of exploring its themes, the film is mostly very effective. Admittedly, there are a few portions of the movie that would definitely benefit from a more intimate understanding of Iranian politics, but a majority of the film appeals to the audience on a much more universal and humanistic scale.
Of the four segments, the first two are absolutely riveting and the back half is just strong. Ultimately, a lot of the movie’s hardest-hitting moments, both emotionally and politically, come early on and Rasoulof’s script struggles to keep up with the high standard that these beats are able to set.
One of the significant limitations of the anthology film style is that character development is made more difficult by the shorter amount of time the audience spends following each individual story. And while all of the players are compelling to some extent, it is lacking that intimacy to make it feel fully urgent.
The ensemble that Rasoulof assembled for his movie is excellent. There is not one weak link in the cast whatsoever. Mohammad Seddighimehr is probably the biggest highlight of all of the actors, giving a performance that is entirely nuanced and empathetic and having great chemistry with his co-stars.
The making of this film is an absolute miracle, much less the fact that it turned out so well. Art made in secret rarely has such an overwhelming beauty to it, and yet Rasoulof’s film is consistently gorgeous. His style is very quiet and unpretentious, which feels perfect for this type of production.
There Is No Evil is both a spectacular work of art and a daring political statement. Even though it does lose some of its momentum heading into its final two stories, it is strong enough as a whole to be unmissable.
There Is No Evil is now playing in theaters and virtual cinemas. A list of participating locations can be found here.