Rahim (Amir Jadidi) is a guy that smiles a lot, but not because everything is going well. Quite the opposite, in fact: he’s trying to project optimism and court favor despite being imprisoned for debt, which makes it impossible for him to work in order to actually pay off the debt. And how did he get into debt in the first place? Being cheated by a business partner who absconded with the funds and left Rahim to face the consequences.
The Rahim we meet in the opening minutes of A Hero, as he’s being released from prison on a two-day furlough, appears to be a lovable sad-sack, a sweet guy whose pure heart set him up to be victimized by those with evil intentions. He’s also a talented artist, which makes his current state just that much more pitiable. Rahim capitalizes on his ability to project this impression with a stunt that draws him a lot of publicity—returning a lost purse filled with gold coins to the rightful owner, rather than using the money to pay off a portion of his debt.
Those who know Rahim better than we do are less impressed. Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh), who guaranteed Rahim’s loan (from a loan shark, not a bank, something Rahim prefers to not mention) and is also his ex-brother-in-law, is not buying any of it. To him, Rahim is a BS artist whose main stock in trade is his glib charm—and when he’s exhausted the good will of one person, he just moves on to the next and starts the whole cycle over again. As the plot progresses, social media also gets involved, making things just that much more complicated—everyone has an opinion, nobody is entirely trustworthy, and the possibility of any given version of events being partly right and partly wrong seems far more plausible than anyone delivering the absolute truth of any particular matter.
As he did in A Separation (2011), writer/director Asghar Farhadi creates a film that is both specifically Iranian and also completely relatable for people from other countries and cultures (like me, an American who will probably never have the opportunity to travel in Iran). While out of prison, Rahim stays with his sister Maiileh (Maryam Shadei) and her husband Hossein (Alireza Jahandideh), in a household full of people including Rahim’s son Siavash. Rahim’s secret girlfriend, Farkhondeh (Sahir Goldust), is a speech therapist who treats Siavash for his stutter. There’s a lot of characters in this film—every household is full of people, who have some of the same intergenerational issues as Americans, among them getting kids to put down their electronic devices and come to dinner. The story also brings us into the company of government officials, shop owners, charity officers, and jail inmates and guards, among others, creating a rich portrait of modern life in Shiraz, a city of 1.5 million whose roots reach back to at least 2000 BCE, and which today is a center of industry and energy production.
A Hero has no soundtrack, a choice which highlights the ambient sounds of each location and also focuses attention on the rich network of social relations among the characters. There’s a lot of dialogue in A Hero, but the film never feels talky—instead, it celebrates a culture in which adults are expected to speak well and express their differences through discussion. | Sarah Boslaugh
A Hero opens at the Landmark Plaza Frontenac on Jan. 7 and will become available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video on Jan. 21.