There Is No Evil – Film Review

Pioneering filmmaker DW Griffith gave birth to the anthology film with his silent epic of 1916 Intolerance, which boldly interweaves four historical tales of religious and political oppression (one of which represents nothing less than Jesus Christ) with the thematic aplomb of the Cecil B. DeMille show of a thinking man. On top, both narratively and financially, it bombed at the box office. Since then, the genre’s popularity has grown and declined, with the 2014 Argentine sextet brilliantly modernized madness. Wild tales and the Coen-eccentric collection of mini-westerns 2018 The Ballad of Buster Scruggs serving as better examples of recent omnibus versions. Iranian production No harm done (Persian title: Satan does not exist) cannot revive the movie coat rack to its former glory (the 1963 Italian Oscar-winning trilogy comic Yesterday, today and tomorrow being a stellar example), but this is a relatively solid quartet of short films that critically examine the country’s dehumanizing system of capital punishment, putting a human face on the citizen-executioner called upon to apply the death penalty too often decreed.

The first thumbnail, which shares the title opposite the film, is a bit nifty but in a satisfyingly morbid way. It tediously recounts the mundane life of a seemingly holy government bureaucrat (Mirhosseini) with a tenacious wife and fat daughter, a man who heroically saves trapped kittens and patiently cares for his fragile mother. The punchline: His job is anything but ordinary. This opening segment is followed by two more fleshy stories, each involving a young conscript soldier’s duty to literally hit the stool while executing a convict by hanging. In the initially chatty and adrenaline-charged second vignette “She Said ‘You Can Do It’,” a tormented conscript (Ahangar) desperate to avoid this military responsibility instead executes a daring walkout escape. The third short film, “Birthday”, navigates the delicate irony of O. Henry of a surprise weekend visit from an enlisted (Valizadegan) to propose to his girlfriend (Servati), only to find that she and her family mourn the recent death of a dear friend.

Finally, the last (and weakest) segment, curiously titled “The Kiss”, chronicles the family fallout from the decision of a sick elderly man (Seddighimehr) to go into exile to raise bees in the desert 20 years earlier. for reasons related to the Iranian capital punishment system, happy for the noose. That may be the total duration of two and a half hours (too long!), But the film sizzles in that final sequence despite the intriguing question mark of the character’s current motives, and it comes down to a vulpine metaphor. best left to a seventh grade literature class. While some degree of inequality is inevitable in this multi-story format – who really remembers any episode, but the still creepy and much-imitated ventriloquist dummy segment in the 1945 British horror anthology Death of the night? – The “Birthday” segment here is the best of the bunch, the one with the most emotional weight in part because of the sad and moony-eyed performance of the handsome Valizadegan.

Unsurprisingly, given the current despotic regime in Iran, this unequivocally moral film is banned there. Director Rasoulof was sentenced to prison last year for three of his previous films on the grounds that they constitute subversive propaganda; he cannot legally leave the country, even to accept the Golden Bear awarded to No harm done at the Berlin International Film Festival last year. Surprisingly, Rasoulof surreptitiously shot this technically sophisticated big-screen production under the radar, without government permission, in violation of a lifetime ban prohibiting him from making films. Perhaps this subterfuge should inspire another cinematic anthology, one with glorious stories celebrating courage in the face of artistic oppression.

Available now in a virtual cinematic version.

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