Weaving four stories into a centrally thematic whole, director Mohammad Rasoulof’s ‘Sheytan vojud nadarad / There Is No Evil’ is a deliberately fractured prism trained upon Iran’s policy of capital punishment. Within its four-act structure, a family man has unlikely blood on his hands, a conscript refuses to hang a condemned man, another breaks the heart of his fiancée and a westernised girl rejects sacrifices that have been made for her.
is effectively critical of a monster who is always off-screen yet ever-present in the minds of its characters.
With all of these strands assembled into a complete film, ‘There Is No Evil’s’ connective thread becomes a febrile yet fatal affair. After the shock of its opening chapter, the film’s overriding theme becomes Iran’s two years of compulsory ‘national service’ which is revealed to be little more than performing state-run executions. If you don’t agree to kill either your neighbour, son, daughter or teacher then you can’t apply for either a passport or a job. With each characters’ lives controlled by this murderous requirement, Mohammad Rasoulof’s movie sets about illustrating a vicious trap at the heart of Iranian society.
Detained for a year and “banned from filmmaking for life”, Rasoulof himself is no stranger to Iran’s extreme reactions to criticism. So whilst under constant surveillance, this in itself explains ‘There Is No Evil’s’ composited structure of four short films strung into one. Yet, with a running time of two and a half hours, there is genuine scope for the criticism, in that its third chapter could have been excised for the sake of both impact and brevity.
That said, with its committed performances and veiled plotting, ‘Sheytan vojud nadarad / There Is No Evil’ is effectively critical of a monster who is always off-screen yet ever-present in the minds of its characters. Like in its concluding chapter where Baran Rasoulof’s westernised Darya is innocently told that “any sudden movement will provoke the bees into attacking you”, it becomes clear that in Iran, every gesture can hint at a thought which could betray you.