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This Week's Film Reviews (May 21, 2021)

10 May 2021

FILM REVIEWS:

 

ARMY OF THE DEAD (USA 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Zack Snyder

ARMY OF THE DEAD is a Netflix bought film that combines the zombie and heist  film genres.  It is one of the biggest budget films to open on Netflix, and not a bad one either.

The film opens with a U.S. military convoy (the horsemen) transporting an unknown payload from Area 51 when it is struck by a car driven by distracted newlyweds.  The payload container is compromised, unleashing a superhuman zombie that kills the soldiers while infecting two of them.  The zombies head to Las Vegas where a large outbreak devastates the city, shown in the segment with the opening credits - very expensive and well done.  The military's intervention fails, forcing the government to quarantine the city by setting up walls around Vegas.  A bit of political comment is added with news that there is a storming on Capitol Hill with regards to the government decision to destroy the city of Las Vegas.

Former mercenary Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) is approached by casino owner Bly Tanaka and his associate Martin about a job to steal over $200 million from his casino vault before the military destroys the city with the tactical nuclear strike. Ward agrees and recruits various members, comically paying them less and less as he moves down the pecking order.

The cliched plot points involving his daughter/father relationship and his possible romance are tiresome and could be dispensed with.  Fortunately the lattre does not last long, after the zombies chomp away his romantic interest.

Snyder pays nods to many films.  Snyder pays homage to the classic zombie films like George Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD including the double speed moving zombie Brad Pitt flick, WORLD WAR Z.  The film contains images like the helicopter taking off in the sunset from Francis Coppola’s APOCALYPSE NOW and bears plot point similarities to THE DIRTY DOZEN, OCEAN’S ELEVEN and THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, not to mention classic songs on the soundtrack like Elvis Presley’s VIVA LAS VEGAS with the film bookended by the song Suspicious Minds.

The crew Scott assembles for the heist is an eclectic one proving that diversity makes a more interesting story.  Though the film begins with a male chauvinistic segment of a an ugly groom and a pretty bride, the latter giving the former a blow job while he is driving, the film more than makes up for it with all the sex offenders in the story getting his comeuppance, especially Martin (Garret Dillahunt) who gets his head chomped off by a zombie tiger.  Gays are not left out with the two possible gay characters, the helicopter pilot and Dieter, the safe cracker.  Nig Notaro who plays the pilot replaced Chris D'Elia who was fired due to claims of sexual harassment towards women.  Snyder filmed with Notaro alone and used CGI to remove D'Elia.

I am not a fan of Zack Snyder, disliking his worst films like 300, BATMAN V. SUPERMAN and WATCHMEN.  But to be fair to Mr. Snyder, ARMY OF THE DEAD his best film, though a little lengthy, is a well-written and executed, entertaining enough action blockbuster that should be credited for its diversity in casting and homage to many film classics.

Trailer: 

 

DROLES D’OISEAUX (Strange Birds) (France 2016) ***
Directed by Elise Girard

STRANGE BIRDS is the second feature film from filmmaker Girard (BELLEVILLE TOKYO) which world-premiered in the Berlinale’s Forum, who finally reaches North America on the SVOD Platform on May the 21st.

STRANGE BIRDS is a quirky, absurdist tale of two very different people who forge an unlikely relationship.  27-year-old Mavie (Lolita Chammah, AT ETERNITY’s GATE) -- clumsy, beautiful and full of doubts and looking for her path in life, has just moved to Paris from the provinces.   She dreams of a future as a writer, but is plagued by doubt and uncertainty.  She has an apartment which is really noisy from the sound of her flat-mate having sex at all hours of the da and night.  She seeks an alternative living accommodation and in the process meets 76-year-old misanthrope Georges (Jean Sorel) who runs a bookshop in Paris.  She helps to and gets free lodging.  George is a secretive and bitter person who sees to have some secret life he had left behind.   Georges is cynical and no longer expects much from life, while Mavie is still brimming with expectation.  Yet something magical happens between them, until Georges’ dark secret suddenly catches up with him – and Mavie is caught up in something very different. 

This is a low budget little feature with not much going on.  Yet, it is a charming sophomore effort from director Girard who in her film, shares the beauty of life from her point of view.  She is clearly against nuclear plants as nuclear protests are observed throughout her film.  When Mavie walks around Paris, she sees dead birds fall dead in front of her  The mystery is revealed to to be the result of the birds being poisoned from eating waste  at a nearly dump, where nuclear waste is discarded.  Mavie is charmed by Paris and director Girard paints a quieter and more charming view of  France’s capital.  The sights of the street on a slope, the insides of little cafes and the tree-lined avenues all contribute to the film’s atmosphere.  But the centre of the film is story of the strange relationship between the 27 years old and the 76 year-old.  Their ’love’ relationship is described by lines they write to each other.  They talk about their imaginary love affair.  There is no kissing or frolicking between the two.  But they talk about a love that could happen if there had been no age difference.  They also talk about children that they could have.  Despite them never seen even touching each other, jealousy prevails,  When Georges sees Mavie with a younger man, he leaves and never returns.

It is wonderful to see veteran actor Jean Sorel in films again.  Sorel was simply one of the most gorgeous actors of his time, becoming noticed after BELLE DE OUR with Catherine Deneuve.  Much older in this film, one can still see his charming personality.  Virginie Ledoyen has a small supporting role.

Director Girard includes a film clip of Satyajit Ray’s masterpiece  CHARULATA about a love relationship between two people who share their love for literature, reflecting Georges and Mavie’s work together in George’s bookshop.

STRANGE BIRDS is an absurdist yet charming romantic drama about a ‘could be’ relationship between two highly different.

Trailer: 

DRUNK BUS (USA 2019) **
Directed by John Carlucci and Brandon Laganke


What is worse than taking a bus full of drunks after a night of binge drinking in the wee hours of the morning?  Being the bus driver of the bus full of drunks after a night of binge ranking in the wee hours of the morning.  The  protagonist of the comedy DRUNK BUS is Michael (Charlie Tahan) whose life is going nowhere.  Michael is a recent graduate and has worked the job for 4 years.  His life is going around in circles, leading nowhere, his bus loop being a metaphor of his current situation.  Based on Real shit - the film hilariously states, and set in the yer 2006, at the start of the film - a statement that made me laugh out loud.  The only thing Michael is looking forward to is his ‘bus safety award’ which he will be awarded if he does not screw up in the next few days.

To make matters worse, Michael's romantic relationship is also going nowhere.  His girlfriend leaves him for a job in New York City.  Stuck in Ohio without a new plan of his own, things have got to change.  And the film takes it from here.

Michael has an incident when he is assaulted.  Of course, being a drunk bus driver, he has also been puked on, but Michale is such a nice guy that he makes no incident of it and also cleans up the bus.  He also gives a free ride to an old man in a wheelchair to get him out of the cold, a man called ‘Fuck You, Bob” for reason clearly seen in the film.

So when the bus service hires a security guard to watch over the night shift, Michael comes face to tattooed face with Pineapple (Pineapple Tangaroa), a larger-than-life Samoan American who challenges him with a kick in the ass to break from the loop and start living or risk driving in circles forever.  Michael takes Pineapple’s advice to heart with disastrous results.  act and every advice does not work for him.  Miracle finally learns that Pineapple is himself full fo shit.  He is not from Samoa as he claims and likely has never seen the ocean.

DRUNK BUS is a loosely written film with side plots having little effect on the story.  Michaels’ sexual fling with a nursing student could be omitted, except to stress the fact that he continually has unsuccessful sexual encounters.  The segment is also not funny at all.  Other incidents like Pineapple and Michale’s visit to his friend or the nicking of alcohol leaves little impression either. The entire film could have a stronger narrative or be even funnier.

DRUNK BUS turns out to be a time waster in the bad sense - a waste of time on a comedy that is not only unfunny but tedious.  The funniest part of the film is when the line ‘Based on real shit” appears at the start of the film.  

Trailer: 

 

MOBY DOC (USA 2010) ***
Directed by Rob Gordon Bralver

If one wonders what David Lynch the famous director of films like MULHOLLAND DRIVE, BLUE VELVET and TWIN PEAKS is doing on the talent let in a doc about Moby, it is his respect for the music artist.  Moby mixed hit first song “Go” which just sold 1500 with the Twin Peaks soundtrack and sold over a million copies.  Moby never ceases to amaze!

As they say a doc is only as interesting as its subject.  Moby is the subject of the new doc MOBY DOC (a play on the name Moby Dick) and if he is not interesting enough, the film does its best to reinforce the fact.  There is an image of Moby singing among mountains, and him offering his view on the meaning of life.

Why make this doc?  This is a doc made by Moby himself.  “Why in the world would I make a documentary about myself?”  It is a legitimate question that Moby asks aloud in the film and proceeds to answer as his film unfolds.

Moby Doc is a fresh, never done surrealist biographical documentary about singer/songwriter/D.J. Moby, narrated by Moby himself.  He reflects on his turbulent personal life in a comical way.  He hires actors to play his mother and shoots it as a film.  His only solace away from his mother and alcoholic father were the animals, leading him to be an animal activist.  He has been Vegan for 30 plus years.   The doc charts his iconic music from underground punk bands to chart-topping solo artist, and from struggling addict to vegan activist.  Moby confesses his first acid experience leading to his panic attack that lasted for years after.

Featuring interviews with David Lynch and David Bowie, along with extraordinary concert footage, utilizing a unique blend of re-enactments, interviews, and archival footage, the audiences is treated to an insightful, unvarnished look at an artist who has sold more than 20 million albums, an activist who has long championed animal rights, and a man whose traumatic childhood shaped him in profound ways.  This introspective journey sets out to answer existential questions of purpose and meaning by examining a life of extreme highs and lows, joy, tragedy, success and failure.

Moby’s doc contains deep contemplative moments.  He was at one point asked what he would think differently if he was an animal instead of a human being.  Moby are up poor in a rich neighbourhood.  As a kid, he was too embarrassed to have his friends visit his home.  Growing up as a poor artist, moving from Connecticut to NYC and staying in an abandoned factory, Moby lived the hard life.  Finally making his dream of selling millions of records. pay found himself o less happier once achieving his dream  In a posh hotel, he contemplated suicide, only the windows of his room prevented it.

MOBY reveals much of the life of the artist that many know but not so much in detail.  The doc is insightful, just as Moby is, making it one film that is both eye-opening, insightful and biographical.

Trailer: 

NEW ORDER (Mexico 2020) ****

Directed by Michel Franco

Director Michel Franco demonstrates his talent for building chaos as his film begins with the evacuation of patients in a public hospital to make room for new ones who have more pressing wounds.  The scary and disturbing scene looks like something right out of a zombie movie, which is probably Franco’s intention.  But unlike Hollywood type chaos, the ones witnessed in NEW ORDER are terrifyingly real.

NEW ORDER has the feel of Alfonso Cuaron’s ROMA.  The setting is Mexico City where a violent coup d’état is underway.  As the mayhem at the hospital ensues, an elderly man is informed that his wife is to be brought to a private clinic incurring additional expenses.  He ends up seeking financial help from his employer’s family when a wedding is now taking place.  The young bride decides to help and more chaos ensues due to the coup d’état.  With these characters, Franco is able to make his film more personal and to connect his audience with his story.  Franco’s gripping film looks at the points of view of the servants of the wedding and the political unrest and they are not pretty ones.

Franco's excellent grasp of his material has just won his film the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival.

Trailer:  

PG: PSYCHO GOREMAN (USA 2020) **

Directed by Steven Kostanski

Despite the really ugly and scary image of the monster in the new Shudder film PSYCHO GOREMAN, as well as the film’s beginning, it is not at all as it seems.

The film opens with tiles of the screen informing the audience of extreme evil existing in the Universe.  Apparently an evil is reigning supreme originally from the PlanertEigar.  But as good always prevails, the Good Spirits have entombed this evil monster after a failed attempt at destroying the Universe, which somehow has landed on Earth in the backyard of siblings Mimi (Nita-Josee Hanna) and Owen (Adam Brooks).

The following scene shows the two siblings at play, playing ‘Crazy Ball’ before digging up the evil from their backyard, bus unleashing the monster.  From very scary to very silly - is how the film transitions.  The kids were supposed to be digging up their buried grandmother.  It gets sillier.  The kids nickname the evil creature Psycho Goreman (or PG for short) and use the magical amulet they discovered to force him to obey their childish whims.   The monster prefers to be called Arch Duke of Nightmares.  But this unfortunately monster has to obey the silly whims and fancies of two children.  How humiliating for a monster of his stature!  As if silly is not enough, writer/director Kostanski uses the silliness a notch.  It is not long before PG’s reappearance draws the attention of intergalactic friends and foes from across the cosmos and a rogues’ gallery of alien combatants converges in small-town suburbia to battle for the fate of the galaxy.  These intergalactic beings are also as goofy as the plot that has unfolded so far.

There are a lot of unexplained events in the film such as how the monster is able to speak English and how the intergalactic creatures are able to find out what is going on, everywhere.

Horror films are usually unnecessarily gross and filled with extreme gore violence coupled often with adult swearing and foul language.  It is a welcome change to see a harmless horror flick made for kids, though adults might find the goings-on a little tedious.  But the silliness is occasionally funny. and as they say, a good laugh can forgive a dozen mistakes.

The film gets a bit boring once it starts preaching about love.  The film also has an uneasy mix of horror and comedy.  A few say parts like the one where the cop turns into the most might be too intense for children.  It seems director Kostanski is unsure who his real target audience is.  The result is a kind of confusing horror film that is all over the place.  One could maybe say that this film is a training ground for kids for future adult horror movies.

The film gives females more stay than the males.  Mimi is the stronger sibling compared to Owen.  The mother also makes more decisions for the household than the goofier father.

PG: PSYCHO GOREMAN opens on Shudder May 20th.

Trailer: 

THE RETREAT (Canada 2021) ***
Directed by Pat Mills


THE RETREAT is a low budget Canadian hour flick directed by Pat Mills and written by Alyson Richards. THE RETREAT is a horror/thriller that seeks to reframe how LGBT characters are portrayed in the genre.  Filmed in the Mono Mills, Ontario area, it stars Tommie-Amber Pirie, Sarah Allen, Rossif Sutherland, Aaron Ashmore and Celina Sinden.  In this respect, it is worth a look.

THE RETREAT begins with a gay couple driving to a cottage (an air bnb) during the fall where the leaves of the trees are changing to yellow and orange hues.  They should know better that the countryside is not a safe place after seeing films like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and THE HILLS HAVE EYES.  Still, all looks good and the couple arrive at their destination at night time.  A noise is heard in the woods.  They do not heed another warning, this one from the Boy Scouts.  “Do not follow a noise into the woods”  This results in one of them killed and the other taken bondage by the unseen kidnappers.

The scene switches to another gay couple (apparently friends of the first) also driving to the cottage.  This is a female couple celebrating a pre-wedding though they have a few issues to be sorted.  What best solution would there be except for the two to escape a very violent near death experience to strengthen their relationship?  

Most of the cast are relatively unknown but they deliver solid performances.  The only recognizable name in the cast belongs to Rossif Sutherland (son of Donald Sutherland and brother of Kief) who must have enjoyed this performance as the nastiest of the villains in this piece.  He spots his trademark facial hair.

Director Mills’ slasher flick does not really tread new ground though Mills provides a neat gay twist to the well worn genre.  The victims in the film are gay couples.  The predators are gay haters and to them, this is one way of getting rid of gays.  The female  gay couple, of course overcome their adversaries.  So this is a gay kind of horror in the woods flick, that could be described as any revenge fantasy.

To director Mills’ credit, he effectively uses lighting, sounds and camera placement to elicit solid scares.  Mills also provides a few stunning shots of the fall landscape in Ontario.  The Ontario Tourist Board should be thankful for the free publicity.  Though not adversely graphically violent, there are some scenes that would make even the most hardened audiences cringe.  An example is the scene where a victim, the poor screaming male gay is hacked to death with an axe.  Though the killing is committed off screen, the screams and atmosphere created are horrifying enough.  Another is the scene in the woods where one is caught in a bear trap.  Just as her partner is trying to free her without success, the trap clamps shut again.

THE RETREAT is available VOD from Friday May the 21st 2021.

Trailer: 

 

RIDERS OF JUSTICE (Retfærdighedens ryttere) (Denmark 2020) ***** Top 10

Directed by Anders Thomas Hensen



RIDERS OF JUSTICE (Retfærdighedens ryttere) (Denmark 2020) ***** Top 10

Directed by Anders Thomas Jensen


RIDERS OF JUSTICE re-unites Dane director Anders Thomas Jensen and actor Mads Mikkelsen, once again after many successful collaborations, their last one being MEN & CHICKEN, 5 years ago.  Those who have seen it would not have forgotten the wild but extremely biting humour of MEN & CHICKEN.  That film that made my list of Best 10 of 2015, and RIDERS OF JUSTICE belongs to that category of Best Films of the Year as well.  RIDERS OF JUSTICE is described as an action, comedy and drama and indeed it is credited to director Jensen who also penned the script, blending these elements masterfully together.

Director Jensen bookmarks his film with the Christmas song, ‘Little Drummer Boy’.

The film opens at Christmastide with a soft rendering of the song, heard softly on the soundtrack.  (Soft likely because Christmas Day is still a while away.)  The title indicates that the setting is Tallinn, Estonia.  A girl wants a blue bicycle for Christmas but only a red one is left at the store.  She will wait for a blue one she says, following which a phone call is made resulting in a blue bicycle stolen in Denmark.  As coincidences happen, the blue bicycle belongs to Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg), the events leading to her mother and her taking a train.  An explosion occurs on the train and the mother is killed.  Mathilde is reunited with her PDST father, Markus (the always excellent Mads Mikkelsen, just recently seen in ANOTHER ROUND).

It seems like a train accident until a mathematics geek, Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) who was also a fellow passenger on the train, and his two colleagues, Lennart (Lars Brygmann) and Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro) show up at the Markus home.   They convince Markus that this is no accident according to probability statistics and they go hunting for the one they think is responsible, a ruthless biker gang leader.  The film switches gear to action mode.  Markus doesn’t not go through the three stages of grief (disbelief, anger and acceptance) a normal person would but deals with the grief the only way he can - with violence.  Markus is a trained fighter and weapons expert from the military, who can single handedly take out dozens of men.  This director Jensen shows through excellent choreographed fight segments.

Mikkelsen is excellent in what is basically the Liam Neeson TAKEN role.  Under a heavy beard, he is still recognizable for his famous stoic expressions.  Nicolas Bro steals the show as the fat Emmanthaler, lured into the project by the sight of pizza.

While all the killings are going on, director Jensen never lets go of the humour.  It is a laugh out loud moment every minute or so, despite some ultra violent scenes such as finger breaking.  Whilst all these are happening, the theory of ‘what if’ coincidences is inserted in the script to tease the audience.  All these elements are extremely brilliant in creating a smart, intelligent and entertaining flick.  Even the title RIDERS OF JUSTICE has two meanings - the name of the villainous biker group or the name of Markus’ vigilante group that takes out the bikers.

RIDERS OF VIOLENCE make my list of top 10 films of 2021.  A Must-See!

Trailer: 

Trailer: 

SKULL: THE MASK (USA 2021) **
Directed by Armando Fonseca and Kapel Furman

I recall the old 1965 British horror film THE SKULL directed by Freddie Francis that starred Peter Cushing.  It has a very similar plot to this Brazilian production that opens on Netflix May 27th.  With a skull artifact possessed by some demon, one can expect a fair amount of cheesiness.  The Brazilian production excels in it.  In fact, it has the look of those cheap Italian horror flicks with saturated red colours of the 50’s and 60’s.  At its best, it looks like a Dario Argento movie.  But unfortunately, looks are not everything.

SKULL: The MASK is a hybrid cop horror movie.  One can recall Argento’s classic horror piece OPERA in which a detective hunts down a predator that is creating terror at an opera production.

The film opens in a 1944 Nazi encampment.  The audience sees the aforementioned mask, or skull, also known as the Mask of Anhangá.  There is also a creepy crawling hand (like the one in THE ADDAM’S FAMILY) that can create havoc if it gets on your face - but most of the time, it is just tossed aside.  The mask is an ancient artifact from the bowels of the Earth that calls forth the executioner of a pre-Colombian God - believe it or not.   

The film then moves on to the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo, Brazil where the story is set. The mask has been discovered by an archaeological team  One of the team brings the mask home and her lesbian lover summons the demon of the mask resulting in both lesbians being horribly slaughtered to death.  Meanwhile, a sinister businessman named Tack Waelder (Ivo Müller) also seeks the mask for his own evil purpose.  This man has the creepiest look I have seen in a movie for a long time.  Mr. Tack has no tact in etiquette.  He is rude to everyone including the  detective that might help him find back the stolen mask.  Detective Beatriz Obdias (Natallia Rodrigues) meanwhile, is a hardworking lady with a questionable past about children that stands in his way.   Her clue is that all victims have been left with bodies minus their hearts.

If one wonders if there are too many characters in the story, there are.  Fortunately a few of them are killed off by the demon that possesses the mask.

There is nothing really scary about this film - just lots of blood, gore and violence.  If the killings are not enough, directors Armando Fonseca and Kapel Furman, who both also wrote the script, love to show the inside guts spilled out.  So be prepared to see lots of intestines and other bloody organs.  The demon also wrenches the heart out of the victims.

The immense amount of blood, violence and gore might have certain horror fans cheering their guts out.  That is all and well, but if the film had included more intelligence as director Argento did, this might have worked as a solid homage to him.

Trailer: 

 

SOUND OF VIOLENCE (USA 2019) **
Directed by Alex Noyer

SOUND OF VIOLENCE follows a deaf girl of colour experiencing hearing loss after an illness.  The hearing comes back to her after a traumatic experience but she is slowly losing her hearing again.  The sound on the film’s soundtrack goes on and off, following Alexis’ hearing problem - a technique used in the recent hit film that won the Oscar for Best Sound and Best Film Editing, Darius Marder’s THE SOUND OF METAL with Riz Ahmed.

The film begins with the girl at the tender age of 10, a young child experiencing a traumatic family tragedy.  Alexis witnesses the brutal murder of her family committed by her brother just back from active military duty.   She stops him by essentially butchering him.  The good thing?  She gains her hearing.  The visceral experience awakened synesthetic abilities in her and started her on a path of self-discovery through the healing tones of brutal violence.   

Director Noyer who also wrote the script does not seem to care about his film’s credibility.  As the film progresses, he adds more horror and violence.

Alexis goes on to pursue a career teaching and experimenting to find new sounds.  There are several scenes in the film showing Alexis lecturing to students in a  classroom.  She is supported and loved by her roommate Marie who seems unaware of the dark secrets behind Alexis’ unique music and the part she unknowingly plays. There are lesbian overtones.  As the film progresses, it is revealed that Marie has a boyfriend and the same sex feeling is likely one-way, from Alexis though Marie tolerates it.

Faced with the likelihood of losing her hearing again, Alexis escalates her pursuit of her masterpiece through gruesome sound experiments and devastating designs. She won’t let anything stop her, not even love.  According to her, beats is the language that tells a story.  She claims she does not hear sound, she sees them.  Alexis is not fooling anyone, especially the audience.

The experiments begin when she hires a couple to perform a S & M sex act while she records the sounds of pain and violence.  She wants the couple to go past the limit.  Eventually, the experiments lead to Alexis hunting down victims to kill just to record their screams.  Alexis figures that she can get away with it if she kills nobodies like the homeless.  This is where the film goes right down the drain.  It briefly turns into a slasher flick, director Noyer not knowing where his film should end up.

Noyer adds in after the film’s half way mark the character of a no-nonsense female detective who everyone in the force obeys.  She figures out all the clues and manages to hunt  down Alexis.

What happens after is totally unpredictable, but in a bad way.  Director Noyer seems to think that because his heroine has a disability, she can do what she wants like kill anyone and get away with it.  The result is a film filled with senseless violence that goes nowhere.

Trailer: 

THERE IS NO EVIL (Germany 2020) ***

Directed by Mohammam Rasoulof

So many Iranian filmmakers have been in trouble with the Iranian Government that it seems that been in an Iranian prison cell is a prerequisite to becoming a recognized Iranian director.  Director Rasoulof is one such director.  He has been arrested and jailed many times.  The latest?  On 4 March 2020, Rasoulof was sentenced to one year in prison for three of his movies, which were considered "propaganda against the system". The verdict also included a ban on making films for two years.  During the ban, he made THERE IS NO EVIL.

THERES IS NO EVIL, is an excellent film that went on to win the Golden Bear at the 2020 Berlin Film Festival.

Working in defiance of a lifelong ban on filmmaking, dissident director Mohammad Rasoulof delivers a piercing drama about a subject he knows well: the costs of living under a repressive, brutal government.  He has no qualms about making his voice known.

There Is No Evil is a film in four chapters, each telling a different story related to the death penalty in contemporary Iran.

The first story, clearly the best one of the four, concerns a family man who, as we come to see, pays a grave moral price for his comfortable middle-class life.  Director Rasoulof devotes a lot of time to reveal the everyday routine of this man.  He is shown, arguing with his wife (but later devotedly combing her hair).  He is shown picking up his daughter like a good father.  But is the surprising twist right at the last moment that makes this chapter the best.

The second and third chapters both focus on conscripted soldiers – in Iran, it is often these men who are forced to perform executions  The second one feels too much staged, like a stage play and is the weakest of the lot. Both segments explore the tension and turmoil that can come with such harsh coercion.

The final section involves a family secret, which brings the film to its powerful conclusion.  It is also the only one that showcases the beauty of the Iranian countryside.  The scene with the running brook water, the countryside and the vast expanse of the Iranian country show the non urban side of the country.

All the four chapters share the common trait of having a twist in the plot, often at the end of the segment. The most powerful of which is the end of the first chapter which actually introduces the topic that is of issue, capital punishment,

The only complaint about the film is director Rasoulof’s occasional preachiness.  But at he director’s best, his film shows his ability at subtlety too.  More of the latter and less of the former is clearly preferred.

Suspenseful, mysterious, and shot through with a sense of urgency, Rasoulof's work bears the mark of an artist who sets his own terms – and who knows just how to captivate an audience.

The film is currently playing on on digital TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Trailer: 

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