Iranian film A Hero expands its slim story to the brink
For fans of international films, Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi has been a good and reliable storyteller. Two of his films – 2011 A separation and 2016 Seller – won the Oscar for best foreign language film (now named best international feature film), and its other films have been well regarded and awarded with numerous honors.
His latest film, A hero, is a moral tale that is as well done as his other films, but presents a story that rests on a very thin plot. It focuses on Rahim (Amir Jadidi), who has been granted two days of prison leave, where he is serving a sentence for non-payment of a debt. When an attempt to pay his creditor with dubiously obtained gold coins goes awry, Rahim decides to do the honorable thing and return the gold that was never his in the first place.
It is this decision that sets off a cascade of bad choices from Rahim and strange reactions from those affected by the choices. He announces the return of the stock market, most likely in an attempt to curry favor with the prison and the general public. And while this tactic mostly works, a few skeptics, including his creditor and someone who controls the fate of a potential job, are preventing his plan from succeeding as he wishes.
When it comes to understanding a story about an unfamiliar culture, international audiences can have many obstacles in the way. For example, the concept of going to jail for non-payment of a debt is alien to Americans, not having been widely used in the United States since the mid-1800s. But that’s another peculiar aspect of Iranian culture shown in the film turns out to be a serious obstacle to Farhadi’s storytelling.
Rahim receives tremendous attention for his “good deed” in returning the purse, including a TV interview, an official commendation, a fundraiser to help pay off his debt, and more. The idea of a simple act, especially one that no one other than his family has witnessed, attracting so much attention is mind-boggling at best, laughable at worst. The fact that the entire dramatic arc of the film relies on so many people making so many fuss about his seemingly selfless act is a show in a bad sense.
As the attention forces Rahim to keep digging deeper into his initial lie, the film never becomes believable or interesting, with Farhadi appearing to think the situation holds deeper meaning than it actually does. This raises the question of the impact that watching something in a foreign language can have. If it was an American film in English, would it be so warmly received?
None of the actors are bad, but the questionable nature of the story holds back their performances. Jadidi is forced to go back and forth between pleading and indignation, and he never really gets a hold of the performance.
In the case of A heroFarhadi doesn’t seem to understand that there are only a number of pieces of the story you can add before the whole thing starts to contract under the weight. If he had made the story a little more subtle, a story that didn’t have the audience suspending its disbelief as much, it might have been more successful.
A hero opens in select theaters January 7. It debuts on Amazon Prime Video on January 21.