The Devil Doesn’t Exist: The Biggest Movie of 2021?

The director of A Man with Integrity tackles the death penalty in Iran. An angry and angry plea, turned underground, but which does not forget to be grandiose and romantic.

When did Mohammad Rasoulof’s cinema get angry? We’re not talking about cautious grumbling or sententious severity, no, we’re talking about truly revered anger. In 2005, his second feature film Life on the water told of the existence of a community of poor people living on an abandoned tanker. The picturesque description of these refugees (imagine Waterworld auteur cinema style) was a way of describing Iran at the turn of the century, especially when the self-proclaimed “captain” decided to waterboard a young man guilty of trying to escape the ship. The picturesque gave way to an endless, almost unbearable sequence of political torture: suddenly, we were no longer smiling, and Rasoulof sent us back in the face – under the cover of a film approved by government censorship – a certain reality that ‘we thought we could forget, the time of a film. After Life on the water, things will be clearer. Gone are the days of metaphors. Arrested and condemned by the justice of his country for illicit filming, Rasoulof will now shoot semi-clandestinely, trying to go under the radar – and his films will not be distributed in France until the explosive A man of integrity in 2017 comes right in our face: the story of a man, a humble fish farmer who tries to fight against the corrupt and the powerful, sort of Bronson-movie Iranian style (a story of watermelons that reminded us Mister majestyk, we do not redo), but not at all in the relaxed and cool register. We felt it: A man of integrity fueled with anger, pure and uncut.

Same for The Devil does not exist It is a film with sketches – one will rather say “film in chapter” not to give the impression that one is laughing. The form of the film was dictated by the exceptional circumstances of its shooting. A normal man, husband, father, admirable son, has trouble sleeping: what worries him? A prison guard refuses to kill: will he manage to escape? A soldier returns to the country to ask his girlfriend to marry him: will she accept? A young student returns to Iran to spend the holidays with her uncle and aunt: what family secret will she discover? Four films in one, each one calling upon a cinégénie and astounding genre techniques of mastery. Have we seen a clandestine film so well shot, edited and written? The thriller, the in camera, the family melodrama that twists the belly, the intrigue with twist … The first “sketch” thus ends with a good surprise slap; the second is a real little timed escape film shot gun in hand and camera over the shoulder, thrilling like Carpenter 70s (even the music plays a tachycardic bass). If each chapter has its own structure and its own form, it is not forbidden to try to link them after the fact by playing on the similarities and the connections, as part of one and the same general plot. Whose common point is the death penalty in Iran, and we should be careful not to treat this as an exotic subject from the antipodes as we feel – and the film sends us back this anxiety – that it will be able to come back, like that, one day, both at home and everywhere else.

Rasoulof’s film is very reminiscent of the great A Touch of Sin by Jia Zangke: like his Chinese comrade, the Iranian has gone from Bressonian realism to a film with disproportionate sketches (and in four parts, linked by an act of violence, so hold on), fed with anger, handling social denunciation as other the shotgun. With Rasoulof as with Zangke, the engine of anger is violence. Violence of society – of its power structures, precisely. If you got out ofA man of integrity angry, “with the desire to burn cars” as it was written at the time, be warned: in front of this immense, vertiginous film, The Devil does not exist, To four times, we experience the same sensation caused by our lyrical cousin, A hidden life by Malick (Rasoulof also magnificently films the landscapes of Iran during the third and fourth chapters): the feeling of experiencing as truly and physically as possible the proximity of a violent end inflicted by power. There it is, this is death. But what are we waiting for to set things on fire?

By Mohammad Rasoulof. With Ehsan Mirhosseini, Baran Rasoulof, Mahtab Servati …
Duration 2h30. Release December 1, 2021

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