Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 19, 2021

There is No Evil

Filed under: Film,Iran — louisproyect @ 7:24 pm

Currently available as VOD from Kino-Lorber, “There is No Evil” is an Iranian film by Mohammad Rasoulof about the political and existential toll capital punishment takes on his country. Made without the permission of censors, this film and earlier ones by Rasoulof in the same vein led to a five year prison term. While the sentence is being appealed, just as had been the case with his fellow director Jafar Panahi, Rousolof remains under house arrest. Panahi and Rasoulof represent the most uncompromising wing of the Iranian film industry and thus forced to operate secretly. Panahi is the most well-known of these rebels, with a body of work that also marks him as a great filmmaker. “There is No Evil”, the first film by Rasoulof I have seen, now distinguishes him also a key member of the film industry’s resistance to censorship and the clerical dictatorship that imposes it.

One might assume that a film decrying capital punishment would be focused on the plight of someone on death row—similar to Sean Penn in “Dead Man Walking”. Instead, Rasoulof is interested in the men who carry out the executions who in many cases are forced to carry them out by dint of their service in the military. The one exception to this is a “professional” executioner whose devotion to his family is in marked contrast to the grizzly, impersonal manner in which he pulls a lever to hang six men at once.

The 150-minute film is broken down into four different short stories with in one case a soldier being driven to desperation after he is slated to carry out his first. In the barracks, he tries to find a substitute but none want to replace him, even for a small fortune. They argue back and forth about their “duty” as soldiers but one would understand why they would be so averse. Being an executioner in these circumstances amounts to pulling a stool from beneath the prisoner’s feet.

The structure for “There is No Evil” was dictated by the need to evade the police state’s interference as Rasoulof explained to the Hollywood Reporter:

To make There Is No Evil despite the government-imposed ban, Rasoulof had friends submit the applications for shooting permits on his behalf. “My name didn’t appear anywhere on the paperwork,” he says. “And I set up the movie as four short films, each with its own director, its own production unit, just like four separate movies. Because the government doesn’t pay as much attention to shorts. It’s easier to get things through.”

Although the film is ostensibly about the Islamic Republic’s widespread capital punishment system, it is just as much about the manner in which state-sponsored killing becomes acceptable. The soldiers, except for the one referred to above, would as soon refuse to pull the stool as they would refuse peeling potatoes as part of KP or mopping up the latrine. One of its characters is a soldier who enjoys the three-day leaves he gets for volunteering to be a stool-puller.

In the press notes, the director explains the motivation for making “There is No Evil”:

Last year, I spotted one of my interrogators coming out of the bank as I was crossing a street in Tehran. Suddenly, I experienced an indescribable feeling. Without his knowledge, I followed him for a while. After ten years, he had aged a bit. I wanted to take a picture of him on my cellphone, I wanted to run towards him, reveal myself to him, and angrily scream at him all of my questions. But when I looked at him closely, and observed his mannerisms with my own eyes, I could not see an evil monster.

How do autocratic rulers metamorphose people into becoming mere components of their autocratic machines? In authoritarian states, the sole purpose of the law is the preservation of the state, and not the facilitation and regulation of people’s relations. I come from such a state.

In Iran, kidnapping may be punishable by death but so is “waging war against God” and “spreading corruption on Earth.” Iran is fifth in the world per capita, just 3 places behind its fellow theocracy Saudi Arabia. In taking direct aim at one of Iran’s most repressive institutions, the director broke with the allegorical tendencies that prevailed among its sharpest critics of the system, even in his own work. He told the Hollywood Reporter, “This allegorical style has its roots in our culture, which goes back centuries, in our poetry, our art, which tends not to say things directly. But I want to break with that, because I think this allegorical aesthetic has become a form of submission, a way of accepting the oppression of the regime.”

“There is No Evil” has a 100 percent Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It is the best narrative film I have seen this year and likely to surpass any of the crap Hollywood churns out.

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