Film review: ‘A HERO’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Iranian director Asghar Farhadi is one of the great auteurs of contemporary cinema. His distinctly low-key humanist dramas immerse us in the minutiae of Iranian people’s lives and through their stories he subtly but powerfully explores aspects of Iranian society, culture and politics.   His latest film, the Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix winner, A Hero, is no different and has justifiably been compared in quality to his much lauded 2011 film, A Separation.

A Hero, which is partly based on a true story, sees a well-meaning but trouble-prone man digging a deeper and deeper hold for himself as he tries to improve his life.  Amir Jadidi plays Rahim, a young father imprisoned due to his inability to pay off a debt owed to his brother-in-law Barham (Mohsen Tanabandeh).  When allowed a few days release to try to raise money for that debt, Rahim discovers that his current girlfriend Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldoost) has found a handbag with a number of gold coins. When the coins are deemed to be a lot less valuable than the couple had hoped, they decide to return the bag and its contents to the owner. Unwittingly, Rahim becomes a cause célèbre as the media learn of his apparently noble act.  Unfortunately, he also becomes a pawn in a game of public relations as a prisoner charity and the prison officials see an opportunity to help not only him but also themselves by bathing in his reflected glory. Constantly needing to alter his dubious story about the gold coins, however, Rahim quickly finds himself in a complex moral and ethical dilemma that would have philosophers salivating.

Like Farhadi’s previous films, A Hero largely explores two themes: family conflict (especially the upheaval Rahim causes his sister’s household where he’s staying) and the painful difficulties of negotiating everyday life, particularly inflexible bureaucracies. Even when his seemingly virtuous act earns him a job offer with the local council, Tahim is grilled by a middle manager who questions him like Columbo about the veracity of his story.  Farhadi appears to see family and society as structures filled with obstacles people must exhaustingly negotiate.  From these seemingly mundane settings he extracts riveting drama and profound psychological insights into people’s motivations and coping strategies.

Impressively, Farhadi refuses to indulge black and white morality as every character (Rahim’s young boy aside) has shades of grey with both admirable and questionable motives.  The woman who lost her purse, who initially seems like an innocent victim of circumstance, begins to look a little shady while Barham, the creditor, whose demands for repayment are keeping Rahim in prison, at first seems like a sadist determined to make Rahim suffer but he makes a credible case for his actions.

The drama works so effectively because of the believable world Farhadi creates.  With what appears to be a homage to the French and Italian neo-realist cinema of the 1950’s and 60’s, Farhadi, places events within a thoroughly convincing environment filled with everyday activities, natural light and ambient sounds like traffic noise and nearby conversations.  Also, vitally, his characters’ many spirited and at times heated exchanges are delivered with potent, intelligent and realistic dialogue.

Those who demand the sugar hit of Hollywood films may have difficulty grasping this film’s subtly woven threads and find it hard to embrace.  Fans of Farhadi and Iranian cinema will, however, be enraptured as A Hero is as convincing, morally knotty and emotionally engaging as the director’s previous works.

Nick’s rating:     1/2

Genre: Drama.

Classification: PG.

Director(s): Asghar Farhadi.

Release date: 9th June 2022.

Running time: 127 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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