Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Stars: Amir Jadidi, Mohsen Tanbandah, Saleh Karimaei, Sahar Goldoust, Maryam Shadaie, Ali Reza Jahandideh, Fereshteh Sadre Orafaiy, Sarina Farhadi.
Asghar Farhadi is one of Iran’s most famous and influential filmmakers and has a massive presence on the international film festival scene. His film A Separation won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2012. His latest film is A Hero, which like much of his oeuvre is another drama that seems simple on the surface but serves up a critical examination of law, injustice, class, morality and fairness in contemporary Iranian society, and he also deals with a number of moral ambiguities and complexities. As usual the filmmaker explores some weighty themes. And here he also throws in the impact that social media can have in shaping a narrative and the effect this has on a person’s life.
Rahim Soltani (a superb Amir Jadidi) is a calligrapher who was forced to close his business when printed banners became more popular. He took out a loan from fellow businessman Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandah) to open a new business, but he was ripped off by his business partner and found himself unable to repay the loan. Bahram had to pay for Rahim and then he filed a complaint against him which resulted in Rahim being sent to debtor’s prison. Rahim occasionally is granted a couple of days leave to visit his family, including his sister Malileh (Maryam Shahdaie) and her husband Hossein (Ali Reza Jahandideh), their two children and Rahim’s son Siavash (Saleh Karimaei), who suffers from a speech impediment.
During his latest period of freedom Rahim intends to approach Bahram and try to negotiate a settlement that will keep him out of prison. Then Rahim’s new girlfriend Farkondeh (Sahar Goldoust) finds a handbag that contains 17 gold coins. At first Rahim thinks of taking the coins to a jeweler and exchanging them for cash, hoping to pay off some of his debt. But then his conscience kicks in and he decides to find the owner of the handbag and return the coins. But the way in which he goes about this is a little convoluted and ultimately leads him into trouble.
At first his deed of returning the coins sees Rahim hailed as a hero by his family and friends and local community. He is feted on television and even presented with an award by a local charity that works with prisoners. But soon uncomfortable questions are asked about Rahim and his motives, and his reputation becomes tarnished in the eyes of the locals who see his actions in a different light. Bahram is unforgiving and distrusts Rahim. But despite the setbacks, Rahim remains unusually optimistic.
This is one of Farhadi’s strengths – the way he depicts ordinary people caught up in a moral quandary that seems to spiral out of control. Farhadi, who also wrote the screenplay, shows compassion for his characters despite their flaws. He slowly tightens the suspense as Rahim grows increasingly desperate to find a way out of his dilemma as the ripples of his deceitful actions spread throughout the community. The way that the story flows and complications emerge organically is also what Farhadi does so well in his films. And as usual he doesn’t offer an easy solution to the situation.
A Hero was apparently inspired by a true story. There is an air of authenticity to the film which was shot on location in the city of Shiraz by cinematographers Ali Ghazi and Arash Ramezani. Their use of handheld cameras lends a documentary like realism and sense of immediacy toe the material. The performances of the cast are all natural which further adds to the realism of the film. Especially good is newcomer Karimaei, who is superb as Rahim’s son.