An incendiary critique of the Iranian regime, Manuscripts Don't Burn is a challenging gaze into the nature of evil and history as its eternal witness. Director Mohammad Rasoulof's latest tackles head-on the violent machinations of censorship in Iran — of which he himself has been victim. (Rasoulof was arrested in 2010 alongside fellow filmmaker Jafar Panahi for "acting against national security." He was given a prison sentence and banned from making films for twenty years.)
Based on true events, the story revolves around a manuscript detailing a 1995 failed assassination plot by the Iranian regime against twenty-one writers and journalists. Almost twenty years later, the existence of this document remains a threat and the head of the censorship board has hired two killers, Morteza and Khosrow, to collect the remaining copies and silence the participants. A masterful storyteller, Rasoulof slowly reveals the relevant details, splitting the narrative between the henchmen and their isolated, state-oppressed victims. Shifting tone from suspense to art-house drama, and moving between past and present with seamless fluidity, we follow Morteza and Khosrow on their mission while silently observing the suffocating existence of three surviving writers.
Utilizing a cold, wintery palette, Rasoulof's camera isolates his protagonists within their individual moral and ethical existence. Much like in his previous film Good Bye, reflective voice-overs create a meditative tone that demands active participation from the viewer. A finely crafted examination of collective memory and the banality of evil, Manuscripts Don't Burn is a defying document, an uncompromised witness to the psychological and physical horrors of censorship. (TIFF 2013)