Asghar Farhadi gives an incisive commentary on the morality of Iranian society
Director: Asghar Farhadi
With: Amir Jadidi, Sahar Goldust, Mohsen Tanabandeh. Fereshteh Sadr Orafaie, Sarina Farhadi
Iranian author Asghar Farhadi is renowned for his films about marital discord, which to me have always seemed like a microcosm of society. A Separation, The Past and The Salesman are moving portraits of family and individual lives set against the backdrop of a deeply conservative community – one that is blatantly patriarchal. We see, for example, how in The Salesman the husband deeply mistrusts his wife after she is attacked by an intruder. In a separation, it becomes apparent that the man has the upper hand and is aided by the male judge in a case where the woman is not entirely unjustified. Farhadi’s latest child, A Hero, who won the Grand Prix at Cannes last year and is now up for the Oscars in the international category, steps away from marriage to examine the dilemma in which his protagonist when unable to return a loan.
Fitting perfectly into a culture that advocates heroism, the film tells the painful story of Rahim Soltani (played brilliantly by Amir Jadidi), who is serving a prison sentence for an unpaid debt. His clenched fist conveys an inherent fear of sinking. He had borrowed 150,000 tomans from a loan shark. To help Rahim, his relative, Braham (Mohsen Tanabandeh), repays the loan. But when the money doesn’t come back, Rahim is sent to prison by Braham, also in despair, because he had taken the money from the savings for his daughter’s dowry.
On a two-day parole, Rahim meets his secret girlfriend, Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldust), and discovers she had stumbled upon a lost purse with 17 gold coins. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be enough to return Braham’s money. So, Rahim comes up with a plan to get out of trouble by advertising the handbag, hoping its owner would come and claim it. She does so, and Rahim is then interviewed by a TV channel that propels him into the skies as one who, despite his dire financial need, was noble enough to return the coins.
A hero then enters into a thrilling experience with a government official suspecting something fishy about the whole purse affair, and his doubts begin to multiply when he discovers that the woman who had claimed the coins is missing. In a chain of do-or-die moves, Rahim attempts to save the day, even having his girlfriend pretend to be that woman. Everything explodes in his face.
A Hero, set in the city of Shiraz, is a powerful demonstration of how Iranian society thrives on stories of heroism and bravery. People go out of their way to prove how good they are, and Rahim – who is a single father with a stuttering son – comes off as a man tormented by circumstances. In fact, he had invested the loan in a business, but his girlfriend ran away.
A Hero, while an incisive commentary on morality versus economic deprivation, suffers from a repetitive narrative that makes Rahim’s saga somewhat vague and even detached. Some punch is lost, and the job feels a little too long even with its relatively short two-hour runtime.
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