Writer-director Asghar Farhadi came to my attention a few years ago with his intense dramas, The Salesman and Everybody Knows. A fascination developed with the director’s eye toward the respective film’s subjects and their environments. In his latest film, A Hero, Farhadi’s lens expertly captures anxious chaos in historic Shiraz, Iran, and in his character, Rahim’s (Amir Jadidi) morals and motives.
From the outset, Farhadi engineers a man who, by all accounts, should be a success. Instead, Rahim’s plight, that of a debtor’s prisoner is but a stepping stone toward a hero’s journey.
Under the opening credits is Rahim, a hurried man. A sense of the chaos bubbling underneath his reserved surface is held closely at bay. The site Farhadi chose to open the film with is archeological in nature. Restoration is underway, and Rahim must climb many stairs to meet before he can find a relative working at the site, analogous to his journey throughout the story. Even as the credits in Farsi roll, Ali Ghazi and Arash Ramezani’s cinematography conveys the intimacy of the character moments and hope through the brightly lit shots. The familial conversation, centered around a down payment against the debit that put Rahim in prison in the first place, turns to his history.
Farhadi establishes distrust in Rahim early on, leaving us lingering doubt. The ensuing drama reinforces his current yet passive motives with good intent. The obstacles that dictate Rahim’s freedom ebb and flow with Hayedeh Safiyari’s swift editing.
The film’s title conveys the sense of the impending drama if you read it head-on. Farhadi’s story tells something much more complex through Jadidi’s simplistic performance. The situation’s complexity is mounted through the surrounding characters and events that aspire to elevate Rahim above his station.
The dramatic clues Farhadi lays out keep the drama interesting. Farkhonedh (Sahar Goldoust), the woman Rahim has been seeing, has discovered a lost purse with nearly enough money in it to clear his name and allow him to get on with his life.
Farhadi focuses the story on a societal need for someone to look up to, recognition of good deeds. Yet, no good deed goes unpunished as Rahim’s debtor doesn’t believe the story, having gone viral thanks to the help of a charity and the prison staff.
Sympathy is earned, not in Rahim’s ersatz ways or Farkhonedh’s ingénue, but with the societal mechanisms that inform the story. They are there for dramatic purpose, to build our sympathies with their fellow citizens who could use a little pick-me-up; this is where Farhadi’s story succeeds, although it isn’t as tight as A Salesman.
A Hero is a relatable human story building those sympathies effectively as it adroitly reminds us of our quirks, our over-reliance on technology to convey information, and our view of the social status of someone’s 15 minutes in the spotlight. Anxiety slowly builds and comes to a crescendo through its effects on the characters Rahim leaves in his trail, most notably Bahram (Moshen Tanabandeh), the man who sent Rahim to prison in the first place. Bahram does not trust Rahim, and with good reason. The story underpins the drama with their bad blood.
It only takes a second to realize Rahim’s impact on his son, the ever-observant Siavash (Saleh Karimai). Siavash is acutely aware of his father’s misdeeds. The family is at dinner in an early scene in the film; however, Siavash won’t put his game down to partake in dinner. “I’m not hungry,” the character stutters. That line sums up the real reasons behind Asghar Farhadi’s A Hero. Without motive behind the statement. Siavash is loyal to his father and a fault. His actions point Rahim to a better way.
Rahim is a good man, foible to a fault. Farhadi’s closing frames remind us that we can all do better, revealing the simplicity and complexity in everyday heroes. How we get to that point is up to us, earning A Hero Cannes’ Grand Prix award and its place amongst Best International Feature Film submissions.