Iranian cinema has always offered sanctuary for individuals like me looking for relief from the empty spectacle and dross offered by Hollywood blockbusters, franchises, and Oscar bait films. Iranian films place ethical dilemmas and the human condition front and center. Acclaimed Iranian directors—Kiarostami, Rasoulof, Pahani—inject humanity into a Hollywood dominated cinematic world that often lacks humanity.
Director Asghar Farhadi’s (A Separation) latest, A Hero, involves an individual thrown into an ethical dilemma. Rahim (Amir Jadidi) is serving time for a debt he cannot repay to his creditor Bahrem (Mohsen Tanabandeh). Rahim can only get out of jail if he repays the debt or gets Bahrem to withdraw his complaint.
Rahim is insolvent; however, he uses a two-day leave from jail to set in motion a plan that could set him free. Rahim’s romantic partner, Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldust), finds a purse with gold coins. The gold coins are not enough to pay the entirety of the debt, but they could go a long way toward showing Rahim as acting in good faith, changing Bahrem’s opinion of Rahim, and getting Bahrem to withdraw his complaint.
Rahim’s best-laid plans, as is usually the case, go awry. Without giving too much away plot wise, the prison staff learns of a “noble gesture” done by Rahim. A television crew starts covering Rahim as a “feel good” story of redemption. Rahim’s plan then implicates Farkhondeh, a charity, prison staff, a taxi driver, Rahim’s family, and even Rahim’s son in a web of deception.
Farhadi could not have chosen a better actor to pull off this story than Amir Jadidi. When Rahim smiles, he radiates a warmth that makes us want to forgive his every misdeed. Our sympathy for Rahim is Farhadi’s way of indicating that the world is not overpopulated with monsters; if anything, the world is overpopulated with sinful individuals that have been thrown into impossible dilemmas.
Farhadi has not strayed far from his formula of presenting a story structured around an ethical dilemma placed within a very specific cultural context. But, my goodness, what an effective and fecund formula it is. Just like in A Separation, A Hero gives the viewer insight into how individuals navigate within Iranian law and culture; and the film does so with elegance, maturity, compassion, complexity, and a lack of sensationalism.
Perhaps A Hero‘s most outstanding feature is how it is able to convey through story and visual the universality of the coverup. Lies draw in and implicate more and more individuals as they continue their course. The more individuals a lie implicates, the more of a need for a coverup. When the closing credits roll, you will be left ruminating on the film’s title. You may also be thrown into the complexities of the ethical dimension—complexities usually touted by some of the more “serious” American superhero films, but rarely brought to cinematic fruition as beautifully as in A Hero.
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