At the end of Evin has its English première at Cine-Excess
“A girl or a boy?” asks Amen, after her new friend Nilo (Shabnam Dadkhah) has just told her that someone recently tried to jump to their death from the overpass that they are crossing. “Does it make any difference?”, replies Nilo.
These questions, it will turn out, are programmatic for Mehdi and Mohammad Torab-Beigi’s At the end of Evin, in which the sexual identity of Amen is also in question. Voiced by Mehri Kazemi, 19-year-old Amen’s point of view provides the focal point through which all the film’s events are filtered, even if her own face is never shown (except, very occasionally, in distorted reflection). This obfuscation of Amen’s appearance is in keeping with her own feeling of fluidity – for she is in transition but, unable to afford gender reassignment surgery or to fit into Iranian society, she has tried – and failed – to seek asylum elsewhere as a refugee, only to find herself back home facing a future of discrimination and persecution.
Nilo, however, introduces Amen to Naser (Mahdi Pakdel), a wealthy, courteous middle-aged man who offers to be Amen’s benefactor and to pay for her surgery. There is a catch: Naser would like Amen to impersonate his missing daughter Annie so that Naser’s blind mother – Annie’s grandmother – can be persuaded to leave her valuable property near the Evin Hotel to her family rather than to the state. It is a far-fetched story, but Amen is desperate – so desperate, indeed, that even as the terms of her deal with Naser keep shifting, and she finds herself not just a prisoner of her country and her own body, but also drugged and detained in Naser’s luxuriously appointed home, she nonetheless goes along with the plan. After all, Naser’s goal to make Amen a double of his own daughter is not so far removed from Amer’s own goal – and if that means sacrificing her freedom, even her very sense of self, then her aim all along has been to change into someone else.
Playing as a paranoid mystery that only gradually parcels out its revelations of what has happened to Annie and what lies in store for Amen, At the end of Evin offers a Persian riff on Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In (2011). Amen knows that she is being deceived, and that a manipulative, ‘irreversible’ trap has been set for her by Nilo, Nasen, Nasen’s wife Sima (Ra’na Azadivar), lawyer Levon (Ali Bagheri) and doctor (Babak Karimi), all of whom appear to be conspiring to exploit to their own ends the vulnerable girl who has fallen so easily into their clutches. Yet what is perhaps most disturbing about this film is Amen’s resignation and fatalism (what the doctor calls “learned helplessness”). As a trans woman in a heavily patriarchal culture, Amen has so few choices and so little agency that, in return for the much coveted surgery, she is more or less willing to surrender her body and her entire future to anything that this family and its retainers want of her. Accordingly the Torab-Beigis’ increasingly tense feature debut is an allegory of the compromised, constrained status of transsexuals in Iran – where the dream of transforming into a butterfly may end with being trapped in a permanent cocoon or pinned in a display case.
strap: Mehdi and Mohammad Torab-Beigi’s debut feature turns the plight of being trans in Iran into a paranoid conspiracy mystery
© Anton Bitel