Magnus Gertten: Only the Devil Lives Without Hope

Dilya. That’s her name, the protagonist who has given the title to the film. She does not give up in her fight to get Iskandar, her brother, out of prison in Uzbekistan. The prison is Jaslyk. He was sent to this infamous prison in 1999 accused of being a terrorist involved in a bombing in Tashkent. She says a couple time that only the devil… She does not want to give up.

Dilya. Nickname for Dilobar. Close-up after close-up invites the audience to read her emotions. There are smiles and tears and expressions of wondering. She lives in Sweden with her parents, she had to leave her country; with her family, it is sometimes unbearable to watch the father and his constant pain waiting for news from the Uzbekistan that most of us know very little about except for the name of the brutal president Karimov, who ran the country with an iron fist for decades. He died in 2016…


Dilya. On Skype with a former Jaslyk prisoner, who tells her about the terrible conditions. Iskandar was first given a death sentence, but the country changed this to life sentence and he was transferred to Jaslyk. 

Dilya. Putting a video with herself on social media asking for help. With Galima, Uzbek journalist exiled in Kazakhstan; she talks about Dilya as human rights activist… and the film takes a trip to a woman working for Amnesty International, who had contact with Iskandar, and to Istanbul where Muhammed Salih, Uzbek opposition leader lives in exile since 1993. One of his colleagues was shot, it was recorded by surveillance camera(s), we see it!

Dilya… half an hour into the film we get to know that she gets married to Anvar. Images full of happiness from the wedding in Tashkent… but he starts to be violent, he says that Iskandar is guilty, he apparently moves to the side of the regime as an informer on Uzbeks living in Sweden, and in Norway where he lived with an Uzbek to whom he told that he was working for the country’s Secret Service. One day he leaves the house to do something in Ukraine, an imam in Sweden is killed…

Dilya…”I took the children and left”.

Dilya… and Iskandar’s lawyer. And Bekzod, Iskandar’s closest friend, released in conversation with Dilya…

Dilya… celebrating her mother’s 70th year birthday, dancing gracefully in front of Swedish friends.

Let me stop here not to be a spoiler. Won’t tell you where the film goes towards the end.

The production company, on their website, characterises the film as a «real-life thriller about love, betrayal, assassins and the unbreakable hope for a brother”. Sales talk – I would prefer say that it is a beautiful tribute to a young woman and her never giving up and search for justice. That´s the documentary side of the film, the other side – and that is quite impressive – is the journalistic investigation that brings forward information/facts about a country with a ruthlessness that must call for strong actions from human rights organisations. There probably already are.

The film has some narrative problems in the beginning in combining the two sides, the creative and the investigative, jumping around to be sure that we get the information needed. It becomes a bit abrupt and unnecessary. But when the camera rests on the face of Dilya, a true hero… poetry comes in.

Sweden, 2020, 98 mins.

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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