The quasi ironically titled "A Hero" is an excellent new dramatic film from Iran
about a man who suffers the worst possible fate for trying to do a good thing in
the wrong way. The film does a great job of showing viewers some unforeseen
dangers of living life in the public spotlight. Be careful if you are
desperately yearning to be in the public spotlight. You just might find you get
more than what you bargained for.
The film was shot in the gorgeous and surprisingly modern city of Shiraz which
is almost a main character in the film. The camera lingers lovingly on
individual street scenes (often of shops) much longer than we would see in most
American films which allows us to more fully consume the intoxicating beauty of
the city. One shot shows a scene of a sign in a store depicting Chapin’s little
tramp which seems to announce that this film too is about a likeable loser.
A Hero was directed by the often-brilliant Ashgar Farhadi who made a string of
universally well-regarded cinematic gems including A Separation (2011), The Past
(2013) and The Salesman (2016). His only recent misfire was Everybody Knows
(2018) which was his first film made out of Iran. Now with A Hero, which was
shot in Iran, he has shown he is still near the peak of his powers. Like most of
Asghar’s films, this one has already acquired considerable critical acclaim. It
won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, and it has been submitted as
Iran’s official entry in this year’s Academy Awards. I have a hunch it might
lose to Drive My Car which has a bigger buzz, but Asghar’s previous films have
already won two Oscars.
The main character in A Hero, Rahmin is a noble soul but he is a bit naive. He
expects that good intentions will also always be rewarded. The role is perfectly
played by Amir Jadidi with an expression of wide-eyed childlike sincerity, but
unfortunately, he sometimes sounds weak and uncertain which I think helps him
get into trouble and makes him sound insincere to some.
One of the many great things about the film is that the viewer only gets a
little info at a time, so as the plot unravels the viewers will be as surprised
as the fictional participants. Rahmin is out on furlough and he is serving a
prison stretch for not paying back his debts. His creditor, Bahram (Mohsen
Tanabandeh who is instantly unlikeable) is related to him through marriage, but
he seems very stern, harsh and unforgiving. Rahmin has trouble finding a good
job because of his prison record, but he makes some money as a sign painter.
While he was serving time in jail, his ex wife (who comes off as quite
vindictive) found a new love, and he met his current girlfriend, Farkhondieh
(who seems very gentle and endlessly patient) because she served as speech
therapist to his stuttering son. One day, Farkhondieh stumbles upon a bag of
gold coins which seems like it could be the answer to her boyfriend’s prayers.
She comes up with the idea that Rahmin will return the gold to its rightful
owner (a charity) which might help to clean up his tarnished rep, but this turns
out to be the worst mistake he could make.
At first, he is acclaimed as a true hero by the media, but as hazy details about
the event emerge the social media which formerly depicted him as evidence of
goodness in the world turn against him. The plot has a similar trajectory as the
one from Meet John Joe. Like that film, this one also indicts us, the media
consumers who are so desperate to find evidence of anyone with a moral compass
that we would puff up a flawed person into a god like figure than tear him down
in a second if he or she turns out not to be perfect. No one in the film cares
that he is a good man that is being treated unfairly they only want to preserve
their own public images.
Also, the government officials in the film seem much more concerned with whether
minor technicalities are followed than whether real justice is served. overall.
I thought the film was just a slightly below the level of Asghaur’s trio of
masterpieces . It is a little short on the emotionally explosive scenes that
made A Separation and The Salesman completely unforgettable. But the film still
serves as a superb and stern cautionary tale about the fickleness of people and
unreliability of social media.
I hope that potential English speaking viewers are not turned off by the fact
that the film was made in Iran. The film’s themes are universal and it is more
relevant and relatable than most films made from the states. In Persian with