fri 12/07/2024

A Hero review - a morality tale with no firm conclusions | reviews, news & interviews

A Hero review - a morality tale with no firm conclusions

A Hero review - a morality tale with no firm conclusions

Asghar Farhadi's new film explores a weak man's selfless act, but there's not enough at stake

Father and son: Rahim (Amir Jadidi) and his son, Siavash (Salim Karimei)© Amirhossein Shojaei
A Hero, set in the ancient city of Shiraz in southwest Iran, revolves around Rahim (Amir Jadidi), a weak man with gleaming white teeth and a permanent smile.
He’s on leave from prison for the weekend, an odd concept in itself, as there are no restrictions to his movements and the whole set-up seems surprisingly lax and polite for what we might expect from an Iranian jail.
As soon as he gets out he runs for a bus and misses it, still smiling, which serves as a kind of metaphor for his limp stance in life.

His criminality isn't very intriguing, as he's just serving time for owing money. And in Iran, it seems, if you can persuade your creditor to withdraw the complaint, you can get released. This is the main plot strand of the film, and it’s not a particularly captivating one, though Jadidi’s performance is subtle and impressive.

But Oscar-winning director Asghar Farhadi (A Separation, The Past, The Salesman, Everybody Knows) hasn’t made this complicated situation, with its tangled web and many protagonists, very gripping, and it’s often a rather enervating, confusing spectacle. As Farhadi has said, daily life can be repetitive and boring, and in its search for realism A Hero seems sometimes to cross that line.

However, the feeling of chaotic bureaucracy conducted in claustrophobic, dingy offices, with people at the mercy of a corrupt system and repressive customs, is powerful. And the domestic scenes in Rahim’s sister’s house with her children – she and her husband Hossein (Malileh Shahdaie and Alsi Reza Jahandideh) also look after Rahim’s endearing son, Siavash (Salim Karimei) who has a severe speech impediment, is bullied at school and is touchingly devoted to his dad - are very atmospheric, with the kids squabbling over screen time and refusing to sit down to eat. An opening scene at the towering ancient necropolis and tomb of Xerxes at Nashq-e Rostam, where Hossein is working on vertiginous scaffolding, is visually stunning.

heroBut, in spite of the threat of viral videos ruining a family’s reputation, there’s never quite enough at stake. We know Rahim isn’t a hero, that’s for sure, but his motivations remain muddy. He is still married, though his wife, who never appears and lives elsewhere, is intending to marry again. His secret girlfriend, Farkondeh (Sahar Goldoust) has found a bag with gold coins in it, which sounds like a fairytale. And there’s no happy ending. But they hope they can sell the coins and pay off Rahim’s debt to Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh), a print-shop owner who’s married to Rahim’s former wife's sister. A tangled web indeed.

The gold isn’t worth as much as they’d expected so Rahim, hoping for a reward – though it’s not clear if that’s his primary aim - decides to return the bag to its owner. He puts up ads around town with the prison’s phone number, presumably to alert the authorities to his virtuous deed, and returns to jail at the end of his weekend off. Soon a woman answers the ad and turns up at the sister’s house to claim the bag, but incomprehensibly and fatally, no one asks for her ID or contact details. The process is observed by the children, whose watchful, sceptical expressions make this one of the film's most memorable scenes.

Meanwhile, the prison governors, a bunch of seemingly genial blokes, have heard about Rahim’s selfless gesture and – Shiraz obviously isn’t a hotbed of newsworthy items – promote him as a hero, arranging a TV interview in which, lying effortlessly, he describes where he found the bag and thanks the prison for its support.

The other inmates aren’t impressed with his mealy-mouthed performance, reminding him that someone killed himself recently after six years in the jail, and neither is Bahram, who tells the warden that Rahim is a bullshitter who can’t be trusted. “Where in the world are people celebrated for not doing wrong?” he asks, adding that he had to sell his daughter’s dowry to pay off Rahim’s debts. The warden urges him to “restore his image” by forgiving Rahim publicly. No one is innocent here, it seems. By now, we’re on Bahram’s side, though Rahim seems feeble and narcissistic – he loves the limelight - more than anything.

The web becomes more and tangled, Rahim makes more and more heroic public appearances, but slowly the truth starts to emerge and a video in which he violently attacks Bahram goes public. Rahim’s flicker of fame ends as quickly as it began. As you watch his son stammering through a speech in defence of his father’s innocence for a TV appearance that’s then cancelled, you feel, not for the first time, that his stutter may be connected to his father's ambiguous relationship with the truth.

In spite of the threat of viral videos ruining a family’s reputation, there’s never quite enough at stake


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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