Filmmaker Mohammad Rasulov is known for themes of political protest in his work, leading to his arrest and imprisonment in Iran, and a lifetime ban from making films in the country, which he has repeatedly defied.
Rasulov’s latest underground film, There Is No Evil in four segments, tells the story of the lives of people that must execute others because of military orders. The film shows the continuation of Rasulov’s path in making unprecedented and unique Persian films on prohibited themes.
The four segments of There Is No Evil depicts a father who willingly works for the Iranian military as an executioner to take care of his family, two young soldiers who were ordered to execute someone in exchange for three days of freedom, and a man who sacrificed his family’s comfort, but didn’t become an executioner. Each of four people have to deal with the death penalty in Iran in their own way.
The story begins with a chapter called, “There Is No Evil,” about a family man named Heshmat (Ehsan Mirhoseini). At first he appears to have a fairly mundane life. He is shown preparing for a friend’s wedding, collecting his child from school, and caring for his mother-in-law. But e wakes up every day at 3 a.m. and drives to work at a military site, where he executes people.
The next chapter, “She Said, ‘You Can Do It,’” tells the story of Pooya (Kaveh Ahangar) a young man who has been ordered by the military to be an executioner but refuses. “I don’t want to spill any blood,” he says. “But if I have to, I’ll kill the person forcing me to execute someone.”
The third chapter is about a soldier (Mohammad Valizadegan) on a three-day vacation from his service. He goes to the northern part of the country to see his girlfriend (Mahtab Servati), but it appears that his girlfriend is mourning for someone who he met in an unexpected situation.
The final chapter, ”Kiss Me,” is about a man (Mohammad Seddighimehr) who is meeting his daughter (Baran Rasulof) for the first time in years. He sent his daughter to Germany, sacrificed his family’s comfort, and moved to a village many years ago. When his daughter, who has no idea he is her father, arrives in the village, he takes her on a fox hunt. But the daughter refuses to kill. “I don’t want to kill a living thing,” she says.
Rasulov is a producer whose movies have inspired a huge amount of political discussion and controversy. Political issues dominates his career, and his advocates and adversaries frequently judge the director’s movies, which tackle highly realistic situations in Iranian society. Maybe the justification of a portion of the honors and applause for him is due to the price he has paid in Iran–including boycotts and detainments–for his sharp political viewpoint.
In an interview with Deutsche Welle in the days when Iran had seen the first of the COVID-19 outbreak, and after Iran had conflicted with the USA, Rasulov said, ”People are talking about how to deal with living conditions under the banner of tyranny.”
In 2020, Rasulov was sentenced to one year in prison and banned from filmmaking for life by the Revolutionary Court on charges of “propaganda against the Islamic system.” He is one of the only Iranian filmmakers who, despite severe censorship and consequences, always speaks of repression and oppression in Iran in his films.
At the height of his ability to tell different stories of people involved in the execution of the death sentence, Mohammad Rasulov provides an influential account of the role of different individuals in an oppressive nation. The story of the executioners, each of whom is affected by their actions.
There is No Evil is one of the most important films in the Rasulov’s career. It is an artistic act of resistance in an oppressed society. He had previously depicted the security agents of the Islamic Republic in Manuscripts Do Not Burn and now here he speaks of the horror of this regime, and the toxic effects of the oppressive military structure. It is a film in praise of the importance of “resistance” and “disobedience,” the story of those who are complicit with repression and those who take the risks and pay the price of refusal.
When Iranian citizens watched this movie, many have the same question, ”If the military orders me to kill someone that they are saying is guilty, should I do it for my freedom? And if I do, am I a murderer?”
I relate to this question on a personal level. As an Iranian teenager, I am one of many who leave Iran to avoid compulsory military conscription. Otherwise the military may send us to Palestine or, like in the movie, order them to kill. It depends on chance, but many are not taking that risk. My own father was sent to serve in Iraq when he was only 16 years old. He did not come out of that conflict unscathed.
Rasulov said in a video conference, “Military service is an example of a structure that shows how the institution of power has taken away the right to choose whether or not to go to the army and that’s why teenagers are escaping from our country.”
Image Credit: Mohammad Rasulov