Mehdi and Mohammad Torab-Beigi’s drama presents intriguing questions about the trans body and the experience of transition.
(This review is part of our 2021 coverage of Reeling: The Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival).
When we talk about transgender operations, it’s commonly along the binary path from dysphoria to liberation. For many it is. But not for Amen, the main character in Mehdi and Mohammad Torab-Beigi’s new film At the End of Evin.
Amen (Mehri Kazemi) has come to Tehran after many months adrift between borders and has met a friend, Nilo (Shabnam Dadkhah), who knows someone that might be willing to finance their transition surgery. But after Amen meets the wealthy benefactor, Naser (Mahdi Pakdel), there’s a growing suspicion that his generosity comes at the ultimate price. As Amen’s grasp on reality peels away and paranoia sets in, they have to decide what freedom looks like to them and if it’s worth the cost.
Everything we see is from Amen’s vantage point. We never completely see Amen. Any reflection we get is on a fractured surface. This creative decision leads us to think about the representational problems of transgender bodies and bodily dysphoria, how to present and connect with a character who does not see their body as their own. Supporting this choice is a long history in Muslim film of depicting stories of The Prophet Muhammad in this way. Similarly, Amen’s non-representation takes on an almost holy or religious quality, like we are somehow communally a part of Amen’s spirit and body.
This is what makes At the End of Evin so effective. The horrifying realizations hit harder because the Torab Beigis align us so completely with Amen. Kazemi’s vocal performance helps make all the truths we’re learning feel more unnerving. Their words have to have expressions as a face would in a reverse shot. Kazemi’s able to color a dynamic performance that, though not visibly physical, still feels wholly embodied.
A creeping, unsettling, liberating reminder that questions about transgender representation and experience are not just practical, but spiritual.
That’s important because Amen’s response to their situation and their quest for answers is what holds your interest. Though the camera’s perspective is exciting, movement and pacing are much more languid. Having too many repeat sequences where Amen finds out there’s more she doesn’t know, rather than getting her to the knowing part, feels at times as if time is stuck, dragging, and we’re not getting anywhere. True, this is what Amen feels, but we’re the ones experiencing duration.
This is very much a studious slow-burn mystery. Yet there are elements of the plot that feel sensational, even pulpy. The reason behind Naser’s scheme is outrageous but played so subdued that it feels truly menacing. At times, At the End of Evin almost feels ridiculous, but everyone involved is so committed to the story being told (and the stories deliberately not being told) that it feels unlike any mystery I’ve ever experienced.
Our final moments with Amen open up a cosmic array of questions about the cages we live in during this life. The Torab-Beigis brilliantly play with how prisons, houses, borders, and bodies confine us in differing and similar ways. Through it all, they never lose the spirit either. At the End of Evin is a creeping, unsettling, liberating reminder that questions about transgender representation and experience are not just practical, but spiritual.