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A Hero (Ghahreman) ★★★

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Hardly Heroic


On leave from debtors’ prison in Iran, Rahim Soltani is negotiating his release by trying to find the funds to pay off the debt that put him there. In the process, he says he found gold coins in a handbag near a bus stop and decided to return the coins to the owner (whom he goes to great lengths—unsuccessfully—to find), rather than use them to pay his debt. TV cameras, charities, prison officials, family members, a taxi driver—all get involved in the drama that will play out in the media and declare Rahim a hero.

 

Rahim’s honesty is constantly in question.

 

Rahim (interpreted with fascinating ambiguity by Amir Jadidi) is ostensibly the focus of Iranian master director Asghar Farhadi’s latest work, appearing in every scene. But he is continually buffeted by unpredictable events, complex family relationships, and those around him. His girlfriend Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldust) will take any steps she can to keep him from returning to prison. Brother-in-law Hossein is the go-between for Rahim and his creditor, who turns out to be his former father-in-law. Rahim’s sister is concerned that he will bring shame to the family. His stuttering young son gets ensnared in the media frenzy. Rahim’s honesty—is he telling lies or the truth or both?—is constantly in question.

 

On its face, “A Hero” asks us to take the measure of this man, but Farhadi seems instead to be taking the measure of the society.

 

Farhadi’s work has often focused on the fragility of family ties and the interaction of economics and family, most notably in the Oscar-winning “A Separation” (2011), and also in his first film, “Dancing in the Dust” (2003), in which a man hunts snakes in the desert to repay a debt to his in-laws. On its face, “A Hero,” which won Cannes’s Grand Prix (its second most prestigious prize), asks us to take the measure of this man, but Farhadi seems instead to be taking the measure of the society. Everyone wants in on the “hero’s” game: the prison officials want good press, the family wants honor, the creditor wants his money (and to not be maligned), the charity wants publicity for its cause. When his story is doubted, they turn on him. They are concerned less with the truth than with their own reputations.

Rahim (Amir Jadidi with his "hangdog look," as one of the characters calls it)

is continually buffeted by family and interested parties.


“A Hero” is not an easy watch. The many characters and complex, unpredictable plot development make it difficult to figure out who Rahim is, to understand him. He’s a low-affect, easily persuaded, somewhat inept man (though he seems to have skills as a calligrapher). Even his girlfriend does not offer much of a sense of why he’s the “joy of [her] life.”


Rahim and his girlfriend Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldust) are seen

through windows and doors,

reflecting the opaqueness of his personality.



The opaqueness and messiness of Rahim’s personality is reflected in the settings and cinematography: small, cramped shops with glass and reflections, claustrophobic interiors, multiple doors and windows, and archeological ruins. This is Farhadi’s point. We can’t really know if Rahim is a victim or a schemer, a self-promoter or a pawn. Even the creditor is portrayed with nuance: is he a bad guy who keeps Rahim in prison for his own revenge, or a man at wit’s end, who has consistently been let down by Rahim’s failed businesses and promises to pay?

 

Aspects of the film reveal the difficulties of filming in culturally repressed Iran.

 

Aspects of the film reveal the difficulties of filming in culturally repressed Iran. Instead of police investigating Rahim’s claims, we have a human resources officer. There’s no dark, dank prison; rather, a minimum-security debtor’s jail, where the inmates play soccer. On April 5, 2022, news trickled out of Iran that an Iranian court had convicted Farhadi of plagiarism. A former student claimed he used, without credit, her student documentary, which was based on a true story. Farhadi could be sentenced to prison and required to turn over all profits to the student.


Life is messy. People unknowable. The title, ironic.

 

Date: 2021 (2022 United States)

Director: Asghar Farhadi

Starring: Amir Jadidi, Sahar Goldust, Sarina Farhadi (the director’s daughter), Mohsen Tanabandeh, Maryam Shahdaei, Alireza Jahandideh, Saleh Karimaeid

Other Awards: 12 wins and 37 nominations

Runtime: 127 minutes

Countries: Iran, France

Languages: Persian, subtitled in English

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