Review: Trans Thriller 'At The End Of Evin' an Elaborate Psychological Puzzle

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday September 20, 2021

'At the End of Evin'
'At the End of Evin'  (Source:Reeling)

Mehdi Torab-Beigi and Mohammad Torab-Beigi co-write and co-direct a relentless psychological thriller that brims with suspense.

Told literally through the eyes of Amen (Mehri Kazemi, whose performance is all in voiceover), the film starts as she is being escorted to a rendezvous by Nilo (Shabnam Dadkhah), a girl from the slums who's been dispatched to find someone with a voice like Amen's.

It turns out that a wealthy man named Naser (Mahdi Pakdel), is willing to pay for Amen's transition surgery and obtain a visa for her so that she can leave Iran. In exchange, he wants her help in pulling off a deception: Naser's elderly mother is either going to leave a mansion worth a fortune to Naser's daughter, Annie, or else donate it to the city. Naser wants to keep the mansion in the family, but there's some sort of problem with Annie —†what, exactly, he's unwilling to say. Not even Annie's mother, Sima (Ra'na Azadivar), seems to know what's going on with Annie or where she is.

Things get sketchier still when Naser's lawyer, Levon (Ali Bagheri), provides drugs he claims will erase Amen's fingerprints. Otherwise, he explains, Amen won't be able to fool the authorities even with a fake passport. But the pills leave Amen disoriented, and us along with her; days and nights blend together, and while everyone tells her that she's only been in Naser's house a few days, Amen starts to suspect she's being held captive over a period of months.

Mehdi and Mohammad Torab-Beigi pace the drip of clues carefully, keeping the film tense with unsettling details that imply the worst: Workmen excavating something damp and sinister from a pool; a sheep, ostensibly obtained fo ra sacrificial ritual requested by Naser's mother; Naser's ever-present, wordless bodyguard (Farid Samavati), and the intermittent presence of a famous psychiatrist (Babak Karimi). Broken mirrors dot the film, their shards reflecting a shattering reality, but also speaking to Amen's state of dysphoria between body and mind.

Most alarming is the way Naser and Levon seem to be gaslighting both Sima and Amen; when Sima slips into Annie's room, where Amen is locked up during the nights, and warns her to leave, your gut says she's telling the truth... and yet, Naser, with a mix of sympathy and scorn, casts doubts, saying that Sima has mental health issues.

The film's wheels never stop spinning; right up to the end the puzzle pieces remain in flux, forming partial pictures that suggest first one explanation of what's going on, and then another. Truth and reality aren't the movie's deepest concerns, however; the filmmakers know that identity can transcend such notions, and that urgent questions of liberty and constraint can be open to interpretation. Is Naser to be Amen's jailer? Or are his lies and subterfuges the key to unexpected freedom? Those are questions central to life in regimes such as Iran's, but the filmmakers apply them successfully to the struggles of the trans community.

"At the End of Evin" screens at the Reeling Film Festival.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.