We often take advantage of our queer privilege in ways many spend their entire lives hoping for. In Iran, a place not known for its pro-LGBTQ attitudes, queerness is something you hide, and hope never comes out, but that doesn’t erase it. So then the question becomes, what would you do to achieve your queer dreams of being who you are in a place that would rather have you killed?
At the End of Evin (★★★☆☆), written and directed by Mehdi and Mohammad Torab-Beigi, concedes that sometimes, even the worst deals might be worth it.
The film is told entirely from Amen’s (Mehri Kazemi) point-of-view, meaning we never genuinely see their face. We first encounter Amen on the road with Nilo (Shabnam Dadkhah) on the road to meet Naser (Mahdi Pakdel), a wealthy man willing to help pay for Amen’s transition surgery.
However, as things progress, Amen begins to realize that Naser isn’t entirely being truthful about the deal, even as everyone around assures them they are safe, and that this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for Amen to get this life-affirming surgery. The harsh reality becomes choosing between this dream and potentially being imprisoned.
The film is seeped in shaky and tense scenes, all pointing toward a greater paranoia that something terrible will happen. Primarily told in one location, At the End of Evin perfectly captures Amen’s fear, even as we only hear their voice.
While the prison aspect is saved for the latter half, it’s not hard to understand the overall menacing threat of being unable to exist as they want freely. The prison metaphor works on multiple levels, displaying Amen’s queerness as a prison of its own and the surgery being the price for that freedom. We only see Amen’s face through shattered mirrors, further emphasizing their broken self.
Amen’s lack of an image also extends to Islamic filmmaking and the queerness within it. The Islamic Prophet Mohammed is not supposed to be depicted in pictures or film, giving Amen’s presence an almost religious tenacity in the face of their fears and the journey they are getting into.
The decision also forces us to live through them, with every stare from the other actors piercing deep into the camera until Amen replies.
Despite the tense and constant dread, the film suffers from drawn-out scenes that feel like filler. Conversations tend to drift into excess and highlight the pacing issues, which go against the film’s attempt to make things as tense as possible.
The story does its best when replicating the protagonist’s confusion and fear but doesn’t always nail the way it tries to show it. Nilo is the first character we genuinely get to know, even clearly hiding something. She feels genuine in her attempt to help everyone in her orbit, no matter the cost.
Naser is serious and intense, with an almost Hannibal Lecter-like lack of emotion. When he makes rigid demands of Amen, his urgent and severe words feel directly aimed at you and make your heart race.
No matter how imperfectly, At the End of Evin accomplishes what it sets out to do, leaving you with a world of questions. It’s a tense and quietly moving thriller that asks what price a person will pay for freedom.
At the End of Evin plays exclusively in the Virtual Festival through Oct. 29.
Reel Affirmations 2023 includes the Virtual Film Festival, providing online access to 43 films for those film lovers who cannot attend the festival in person, with a viewing window from Oct. 23 to 29.
Browse the full Virtual Festival catalog here.
Buy Virtual Festival passes here.
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