There Is No Evil is an anthology film with 4 short stories with the common thread being the impact of the death penalty in Iran on ordinary people.
The first, titular story is a little slice-of-life, following a guy getting off night shift, picking up his wife, going to the bank, trying to get parking, picking up his kid, getting the messages, going to visit Granny and getting her tea ready for her, coming home and unpacking the shopping, and getting a bit of kip before his next shift. Then he goes into work, makes a pot of coffee, and releases the trap door on that day’s condemned prisoners. The ordinary banalness of his life is sharply cut off with this stark horror, leaving the viewer feeling like the floor has just given out beneath them too. It’s the casual brutality to it, and the everyday routine of it. The fact it’s just woven into accepted life as if it was nothing.
The second story is called She Said, “You Can Do It”, which follows a young soldier as he tries to figure any way out of his executioner’s duty in the morning. See, in Iran, there’s national service, and you can get out of it, there is some wiggle room, but until you complete it, you can’t get a driver’s license, you can’t get a passport, you can’t leave the country, you can’t get a good job, you will struggle in just about every way. So most people roll the dice and do the 2 years, hopefully just get posted somewhere dull, and stand watch every night looking at nothing. This story is about what happens when you lose that roll of the dice. The main character has been posted into the executioners squad, and is facing his first kill in the morning. He spends the night trying various strategies to get out of it, trying to convince other squad members to take his turn, trying to buy his way out of it, trying to phone anyone he knows who might have a little pull. But the clock is counting down, and the film shows it as though it were he who were going to the gallows when time runs out.
The third story is called Birthday. Javad, one of the soldiers in the previous story’s squad, goes home for the birthday of Nana, the woman he loves. He decides he’s going to propose to her . . . and then everything falls to shit. Javad is far less conflicted than the soldier from the previous story, separating work from civilian life. But even in his countryside idyll, the horror of what he is involved in has a way of spilling out in unimagined ways.
The last tale is called Kiss Me, and follows a young woman coming to visit her aunt and uncle in Iran for the first time. Again, living up on the hills in a ragtag farmstead, you could not feel like that darkness could be further way. But old sins cast long shadows. And it shows how the impact these decisions that are being made are felt even generations on.
This film is just great. Gorgeously shot, it marries the mundane and the monstrous in an impressive and nuanced way. It never gets preachy. While obviously being anti-death penalty, it is not here to make an argument, but to explore the human heart, and how it copes when put in these life-and-death decisions. Powerful.