There is no harm – Buffalo Rising
“I just wanted three days off.” This is the reason why Javad (Mohammad Valizadegan), who is serving a mandatory 2-year term in the Iranian army, gives for having committed an act – one might say, “original sin” – which will cause Na’na (Mahtab Servati), who loves Javad and in turn is the love of his life, to hang him in effigy and walk away. Javad’s tragic story (“The Birthday”) is the third of four, each following a man, that make up this extraordinary exploration of the ethics of committing an act some might understand as wrong – and the consequences of doing so. , or not to. .
Iranian director and writer Mohammad Rasoulof has talents for mystery (the narrative and moral connections between the episodes are not obvious), subtlety, the unexpected, and a good, well-told story. This, his latest exploration of ordinary man’s morality, won the Golden Bear (Best Picture) at the 2020 Berlin International Film Festival. Because it was filmed in secret and smuggled out of the country, it would never have been submitted by Iran for the Oscar for best international feature film.
The banality of Javad’s explanation for committing “the act” is also central to the first episode, which opens with an extended metaphor: Heshmat (Ehsan Mirhosseini) gets into his car in a basement parking lot and navigate a circular chiaroscuro ramp (the circle of life, Dante’s circles of hell) to the surface. While Heshmat doesn’t face any obvious moral dilemmas, his work has made him something of a figure, a man drained of his free will and the emotions that normally come with life. He’s kind and considerate, a decent family man who dutifully colors his acerbic wife’s graying hair – but his work has hollowed it out; he is disturbed enough by what he is doing that his wife collects the blood money which is his paycheck.
Episodes 2 and 4 take up the consequences of do not do the deed. Episode 2 (titled “You Can Do It”) opens in a claustrophobic bunk room – it takes place almost entirely at night – shared by half a dozen Iranian soldiers, all part of a unit whose task it is is to execute a critical order. In a tense scene reminiscent of the juror debate in “12 Angry Men” (film, 1957), the soldiers articulate various ways of assessing the moral dilemma they are caught in: you could pay someone else into the game. unity to do For you; you could pull strings with your friends and family to get by; it’s your job, so just do it; if you don’t, someone else will, and there will be serious consequences for you and your family; don’t be a “mama’s boy” – and so on.
It’s the decision of new recruit Pouya (Kaveh Ahangar) to take, and he does it in a dramatic fashion, producing a long and exciting streak that culminates in a merry duet of “Bella Ciao”, the anthem of Italian anti-fascist supporters. , now an international liberation hymn, and here too a nod to the authorities who forced the soldiers in the bunks to do the dirty work of the state. These authorities never physically appear in the film; their morality – or immorality – is a given. It is the ethical dilemma of those who are at the bottom, who are simply required to act, which is in question: the morality of the ordinary man.
The choice of Pouya seems to have no consequence – unless, that is, one considers the possible links between his account and that of Bahram, which is episode 4. As in the story of Pouya , “Bella Ciao” appears, although here only as a slight instrumental, a small part of the soundtrack. Most importantly, Bahram (Mohammad Seddighimehr) – who could, in theory, be a mature Pouya – lives isolated, off-grid, in a mountainous region remote from Iran, possibly in political exile. Ashkan Ashkani’s cinematography captures a hilly and intimidating landscape. We learn of Bahram’s circumstances through the interrogation of Darya (Baran Rasoulof, the director’s daughter), his niece visiting from outside Iran. Bahram does not have a driver’s license (a consequence of not doing the job, mentioned in the previous bunk bed scene) and, like Pouya, is a pacifist, feeding rather than shooting a wolf who ate his chickens. “The past is the past,” the lyrics to the song “Kiss Me” note, but for Bahram, the past – his decision not to participate – is indeed his present.
If Rasoulof’s enterprise is by nature didactic, the complexity and subtlety of its writing and its staging mostly overcome the limits presented by the commitment to moralize.
If Rasoulof’s enterprise is by nature didactic, the complexity and subtlety of its writing and its staging mostly overcome the limits presented by the commitment to moralize. Even so, he may be needlessly a preacher (when Javad is lectured on how he could have avoided military service); obvious (Heshmat, home from work, showering, washing away the sins of the day in the “out-out-damned-spot” scene); obscure (what’s the point of Bahram trying to get Darya to kill the wolf?); even inappropriately exciting (Bahram’s relationship with Darya). Rasoulof could have taken a few minutes on a very long film leaving some of those scenes on the floor of the proverbial editing room.
“There is no harm” is nevertheless a breathtaking achievement. Filmed by a director already under arrest and sentenced to prison for his previous films, it convincingly captures not only an ethical conundrum, but the agony of a people and a nation, at a moral crossroads.
Date: 2020 (US version 2021)
Stars: 3.5 (out of 4 stars)
Director: Mohammad Rasoulof
Starring: Mohammad Valizadegan, Mahtab Servati, Ehsan Mirhosseini, Kaveh Ahangar, Mohammad Seddighimehr, Baran Rasoulof
Country: Germany / Iran / Czech Republic
Languages: Persian, German
Run Time: 151 minutes
Other awards: Won: Best Film – Golden Bear, Berlin International Film Festival 2020; 14 other victories and 5 other nominations
Availability: In select theaters and streaming from theater sites to Kino Lorber’s website to theater sites, such as Laemmle, or until June 10, via UCLA Film Archives.
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