Iranian director Asghar Farhadi delivers morality tales that leave bruises

Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo | Jan. 13, 2022

A Hero
Opens Jan. 21, Prime Video
4 out of 5

Winner of the Grand Prix Award at Cannes last June, A Hero is Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi first film set in his home country in five years.

Far from the caricature right-wingers world-wide continue to perpetuate, Farhadi’s Iran is very relatable. Granted, by working within the frame provided by the Islamic republic, his work isn’t as hard hitting as it could be. But he lets the less savoury elements of living under a religious regime seep in, showing characters besieged by moral conundrums that emerge from class, gender and modern life.

The story revolves around Rahim (Amir Jadidi), a shifty dude imprisoned because of a large debt he’s unable to pay. During a two-day leave, he sets out to convince his creditor to agree to a repayment plan so he can stay out of jail.

Rahim has an ace up his sleeve, or so he thinks: 17 gold coins his girlfriend found at a bus stop. Soon, he realizes the value of the coins won’t be enough to cover his debt. So he attempts a daring approach: return the coins in the most public way possible, and let the chips fall where they may.

Initially, the strategy works. Rahim is celebrated for his honesty and moral fibre by everyone except his creditor, who thinks rewarding someone for not taking advantage of a situation is the equivalent to praising them for not committing a crime. Soon enough, questions emerge about the timing of the find, the root of Rahim’s decision to return the coins, and the identity of the rightful owner.

As the lead character, Jadidi strikes the right note for the film to work. Rahim sees himself as a righteous man victimized by the system: he’s stuck in jail, unable to work and pay his debt. The audience sees him as a sad sack who gets away with questionable behaviour by being pathetic.

Jadidi does it so well, in fact, the film gets you on Rahim’s side, even though the unsympathetic money lender is the one reading the situation correctly. Rahim uses his child, a sweet kid with learning disabilities, as a prop and his family as a crutch. Yet malice doesn’t seem to enter the equation, making him a more recognizable type of loser.

Farhadi is a master of slow burn storytelling. In his hands, situations as common as a marriage falling apart (A Separation) or an assault (The Salesman) are dramas with higher stakes than the Avengers saving the world for the 300th time. While the morals of A Hero  are familiar — there’s no such thing as a selfish act, you’re your child’s role model 24/7 — this film is no less gripping.