Monthly Archives: December 2020

VIFF 2020 Review: There Is No Evil (شیطان وجود ندارد)

There Is No Evil is four films in one about the topic of the death penalty and how Iran carries it out.Definitely a film that will make people think.

I was eager to watch There Is No Evil because of a lot of the pre-festival buzz surrounding it. it’s a very thought-provoking film.

The first quarter of the film is a simple setting. It’s a man named Hashmet and his wife. They’re coming home in the same car doing daily tasks before they arrive home and picking up the daughter from school. The wife is actually arriving home from work. They talk about plans of going to a wedding and of caring for his wife’s mother. The husband actually works his job in the early morning. After the wife and daughter arrive in their well-to-do home, have their dinner and go to bed, the husband then goes off to work. He wears a uniform of a guardian. He makes his way to a private room with some food. With his job, he has to wait until all lights in a section turn green. There are a few red ones. Then the lights are all green. He presses a button. The button involves a platform men who are about to be hanged stand on. The button he presses drops the platform from underneath their feet and they hang until their deaths: whether it’s immediate or by strangulation of the noose.

The second quarter of the story shows a bunker room for soldiers. It is Iranian law that a young soldier is to assist with the execution process. It can be any one in the bunker area. Pouya is the one chosen. He is completely against committing this act. He will have to perform this act or else he will not receive a completion certificate, which will mean no chances for a good career. He talks of doing mutiny and escaping with his girlfriend. All of the other soldiers think this is too risky of a move. Some even think he’s a sissy. Then the moment for his service comes. Pouya is all prepared and dressed. As they’re walking their way to the gallows, Pouya suddenly revolts against the guard. He then makes his way into another room where he also revolts against the security guards. Pouya then breaks free. He meets his girlfriend in a remote locate. The two drive off where they talk of their future plans for outside Iran.

The third quarter of the film belongs to a young soldier named Javad. Javad is on a three-day leave from his military service. First thing he does on his leave is bathe in the river before seeing his girlfriend Nana, whom he hopes to marry one day. Nana’s family is setting up a memorial service in the house. Javad willingly attends the private service until he sees the picture of who the memorial service is for. It’s for a man Javad helped execute. Javad is brought to guilt over what he did. He tells Nana and she is heartbroken. He tries to convince her of what he did. He said “If we say no, they will destroy our lives.” He can be seen trying to wash his face in the river. To some, it may look like he’s trying to drown himself.

The fourth and final quarter is the story of a couple and their niece. Their niece Darya arrives at the airport after arriving from Germany and they’re excited to see her. The trip is supposed to be a nice get-together, as he takes Darya in the rural countryside. Darya is uncomfortable with the hunting trips as she refuses to kill a living thing. However the get-together is to turn solemn as the uncle has some heartbreaking news to tell. He is dying and has less than a year to live. Darya is heartbroken. However the uncle has two other pieces of news to confess to her. The first is that he used to participate in the process of capital punishment as a soldier. The second is that he is Darya’s father. Darya is upset with all this news. She can’t even begin to look at him in the face. The story ends asking more questions than answers.

The main topic of the film is the death penalty in Iran. It’s good that a film about this topic is made. Iran is second only to the People’s Republic of China as the country that carries out the most executions. Many believe Iran carries out the most per capita. The crimes for execution range anywhere from murder to rape to even crimes considered non-capital in other countries like armed robbery, arson, burglary, counterfeiting and even non-crimes like fornication, blasphemy, homosexuality and adultery. Often when there are hangings, their bodies are out on display in the public streets of the cities. The film shows that those people who do the escorting of prisoners to be executed are soldiers of the Iranian army. Such is a military duty. There may be some soldiers that think it’s the right thing, some that think nothing of it, and some that are dead-set against it. Whatever the situation, military service is mandatory in Iran if you want to have a future of any kind. If you reject your military duty and don’t receive a completion certificate, you won’t be able to apply for a passport or a job. Although the part involving Hashmet has nothing to do with the military, it shows that he can have a well-do-to life through this system. Executioners are well-paid in Iran.

This film presents four different stories of capital punishment. The people are not linked in any way whether it be the people they execute or any family relation so it almost looks like four short films stringed together. The first is of a man who carries out his daily life with a good standard of living by Iranian standards and does his job normally. The second is of a young soldier who is dead-set against it and plans to commit mutiny. The third story is of a soldier who realizes who he led to execution when he’s over at a house for the memorial. The fourth is a man who’s the biological father of the girl and has to confess his past before he dies. These films can stand alone, but they’re all interconnected in this feature film that has something to say about the death penalty, and the systemic regime of Iran that supports this system of rewarding those who carry out the duties.

The film is well-constructed as it sets up for the main topic of the film and the second and third stories are more a case of the rebel and the conformist who regrets what he does. The fourth story is a bit unique as it’s of a man who is nearing his death and he regrets what he did. The fourth story didn’t make the most sense. Often you wonder why the daughter is angry. Is it his past of participating in executions? Or is it his truth he had to tell? It’s hard to understand at that point.

This film is a remarkable achievement for director/writer Mohammad Rasoulof. Just right after the 2017 Cannes Film Festival where his film A Man of Integrity premiered and won the Un Certain Regard Award, he was arrested for ‘endangering national security’ and ‘spreading propaganda’ against the government. He was eventually sentenced to a year in prison and banned for life from filmmaking. Rasoulof is not the first Iranian director to be criminally sentenced. Jafar Panahi who directed 3 Faces was also given a prison sentence and a ban on filmmaking. We should admire these Iranian directors. They’re risking their freedom to tell the truth that the government wants hidden. With Rasoulof, he’s defying his lifetime ban to tell his feelings about the death penalty in Iran. His assembly of four short films into a feature-length film of a common theme is his brave attempt at sending the message to the world. Although it’s a strong assembly until the last film doesn’t seem so clear in its message, it is worthy of admiration and being labeled an accomplishment. I don’t think there was a single standout performance among the acting. There was no single lead performance. All the actors who performed in their vignettes embodied the character and the story well. Also world noting, Rasoulof’s daughter Baran plays Darya in the film.

There Is No Evil has had an impressive tally on the film festival circuit. It started to year off by winning three awards at the Berlin Film Festival including the Golden Bear for Best Film. Since then, it has also won Best Narrative awards at the Heartland Film Festival, Montclair Film Festival and the Philadelphia Film Festival. It’s also won the Audience Award at the Sao Paulo Film Festival and Rasoulof won the Best Director Award at the Valladolid Film Festival where it was a nominee for the Golden Spike Award for Best Film.

There Is No Evil is a powerful film with something to say about capital punishment and the regime that promotes it. The four stories are not related by story but by the common theme. All four have something to say about the subject. A proud accomplishment from a director who could be criminally punished again for making such a film.

VIFF 2020 Review: Summer of 85 (Été 85)

Summer of 85 is the summer of love for two young men, played by Felix Lefebvre (left) and Benjamin Voisin (right).

Summer of 85 is a film that will first attract people to watch for differing reasons. Some who are fans of French films, some for the LGBT-themes story, some who are fans of retro-80’s stuff, or some who are fans of teen love stories. Those who see it should be pleased.

The film begins with a young male, only 16. His name is Alexis and he’s under arrest by authorities. He’s frustrated over what he did. The authorities are wondering why he did what he did. Recklessness? Anti-semitism?

Alexis is willing to let us know how it all started. It all started one hot summer day along the Normand coast. One day he decides to go boating. However it’s on the day of a thunderstorm and Alexis is not all that good at sailing to begin with. His boat capsizes and it throws Alexis in the water. Alexis is almost drowning in the water until he’s rescued by a young male his age. His name is David Gorman. He is 18 years-old, Jewish, and works with his mother’s tourism business along the coast. Alexis is awestruck by David. David takes Alexis to his house where his mother offers him a bath to warm up.

Alexis and David are too completely different individuals. Alexis is the shy one just trying to find his way in the world. David is the daredevil rebel who isn’t afraid to drive like a crazy on his motorcycle and believes in living life unpredictably. Over time, Alexis and David are a lot more than simple friends. They do many a thing together like go to parties, go to carnivals, go to amusement parks and go to the beach. David’s mother even takes a liking to Alexis. Alexis’ mother notices that he’s become less shy since he met David. One night, the two rescue a drunken man who almost drowns in the beach. Another time after a fun night, the two make a promise to each other. If one dies before the other, they dance on their grave.

One day, a woman enters the picture. Her name is Kate and she’s a young student from the UK who speaks excellent French. David is welcoming to having Kate with the two of them, as a friend, but Alexis is uncomfortable with it. The two take Kate out sailing. Even though Alexis goes along with it, you can tell as David keeps Kate company, Alexis is sensing something. Eventually Alexis is justified. At a party, Alexis catches David making love to Kate. Alexis confronts David in his mother’s store. David acts like he couldn’t care less about Alexis’ feelings and just throws in his face how boring he is. Alexis starts a fight with him and trashes the store before leaving. David goes out to look for him and even gets violent at a party with others.

The next day, Alexis goes to visit the store, but David’s mother is infuriated with him. David died in a motorcycle accident trying to search for Alexis and she completely blames him for his death. She even threatens to call the police when Alexis comes to the house. Alexis is heartbroken and distraught. His mother doesn’t know how to deal with him. The only person he feels he can see about this is Kate. Kate says he’s over at the morgue. The only way Alexis can see David’s body is if he poses as his girlfriend. Alexis agrees to do so. As he sees the deceased David, Alexis can’t help but make love to him one last time, which gets them both booted out of the morgue. Kate is upset with how Alexis has been acting and has a falling out with him. Alexis feels he has one last mission. He goes to the town cemetery. He goes to the Jewish section to search for the newest grave. He finds David’s grave. He dances on top of it with Rod Stewart’s ‘Sailing’ playing from his Walkman. That’s when the police arrest him.

Alexis’ mother tries to reach out to him before his trial. Kate meets with Alexis one last time before she returns to the UK. She just lets Alexis know both of them weren’t in love with David. They were in love with their own image of David. At the trial, Alexis is given a lenient sentence. The Summer of 1985 appears on the verge of ending as Alexis notices a man at the beach. He’s the drunkard whom he and David saved from drowning. Alexis learns that he’s gay. The two get to know each other better.

I’m sure that when you first start to watch this film, many of you will impulsively thin kat the beginning you will get another case of Call Me By Your Name. I mean it has all the makings: Mediterranean Coast, a boy-meets-boy story, adaptation from a novel. However there are a lot of differences you’ll notice as time goes on. First of all this boy-meets-boy story is of a 16 year-old and an 18 year-old. One’s the more orderly, more sensitive type. One’s the rebel who likes to let loose. The inclusion of the young woman in the middle also adds for some twists and turns. Also like, CMBYN, this film is an adaptation of a book. The book is actually a 1982 British book by Aidan Chambers titled Dance On My Grave.

The film is as much of a tragedy as it is a comedy. David breaks up with Alexis in the most heartless way. David then dies young. Alexis doesn’t know how to deal with David, especially with seducing his corpse (and disguised as a female). He does the dance he promised, which is what leads him to be arrested in the first place. There are moments of heartbreak, but there are moments that will have you laughing. I’m sure you won’t have a hard time finding the humor in there.

At the same time, the story is a funny reminder to many of us of our young-and-stupid days. About days when we become adults for the first time and just let it all out in having fun as limitless as it gets. The film is also a reminder of our own immaturities as young adults. It’s noticeable in Alexis as he doesn’t know how to deal with his emotions. It’s evident in David how he drops Alexis cold because he sees him as a bore. Yeah, cases when we were that insensitive to those that ‘loved’ us are an uncomfortable reminder of our own immaturities we had when we were becoming adults. However the biggest surprise for me is that it’s set in 1985 and the public treat the gay couple like it’s no big deal. I remember 1985 very well. People were not that accepting of gay couples back then. Plus with the AIDS epidemic getting a lot of attention, the gay lifestyle was seen with a lot of contempt. Anyways, if the story included the realities of the time, it wouldn’t have made for the delight it is.

This is an excellent film from French director Francois Ozon. Ozon has had over twenty years of an illustrious filmmaking career including 8 Women, Swimming Pool, Potiche, Frantz and By The Grace Of God that won the Silver Bear at the 2019 Berlin Film Festival. This film doesn’t have the same awards-caliber as some of his past films, but it’s still a remarkable film as it shows a side of teen love most films don’t show. Some could even say this film looks a lot like a queer version of a John Hughes teen comedy. Also remarkable are the acting performances of the main protagonist Felix Lefebvre and his love interest Benjamin Voisin. Felix was excellent in depicting Alexis as the sensitive one who falls in love for the first time. Felix was great in depicting Alexis with his sensitivities, insecurities and immaturities. Voisin was excellent in playing the rebel whose bad-boy sex-appeal knows how to win Alexis and Kate, but is too selfish and stupid to relate to others. Philippine Velge was also excellent as Kate: the British girl in between the two. Valeria Bruni Tedeschi was also very good as David’s mother and did an excellent job in going from a loving mother to one grieving and hurting badly. Isabelle Nanty is also good as Alexis’ caring and concerned mother.

Summer of 85 hasn’t been a big darling at too many film festivals. Comedies like these normally aren’t. It hasn’t even won awards for LGBT-themed films. However it has been a nominee for the Gold Q-Hugo Award at the Chicago Film Festival and was nominated for two awards at the San Sebastian Film Festival. I’m sure when the awards season comes up later than usual in 2021, it will win or be nominated for many LGBT-themed awards.

That’s the unique thing about Summer of 85. It’s part-tragedy, part-comedy. Part teen romance, part coming-of-age story. Those who see it will be delighted.