starring Amir Jadidi, Mohsen Tanabandeh, Fereshteh Sadrorafaii, Sarina Farhadi
written and directed by Asghar Farhadi
by Walter Chaw A Hero is Asghar Farhadi's Iranian Neorealist version of Stephen Frears's gaudy American prestige flick Hero, in which a man lauded as one type of person is secretly another type of person, thus calling to the stand society's process for determining object choice and assigning value. Not a new conceit, in other words. Here, it's given Farhadi's "miserablist parade" approach, whereby the exhausted didacticism of the premise is meted out with the punishing drip-drip of water torture. Freed for 48 hours from a debtor's prison, Rahim (Amir Jadidi) has a clandestine--because of divorce or something--meeting with his girlfriend, Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldust), who produces a handbag she's found abandoned that's full of gold coins. Problem solved, yes? No. Exchange rates being what they are in this global economy, the gold isn't quite enough to cover Rahim's obligations, and so he hatches a plan to make a big show out of giving the money back, the better to capitalize on his freshly-minted Good Samaritan persona. It works until it stops working, as these things do.
A usurer engaged in a socially-frowned-upon relationship given an ill-got bag of gold? A Hero has about it all the suspense of a Passion Play, and sure enough, Rahim suffers a series of mortifications: a sister who doubts him, an ex-brother-in-law who denounces him, a charity that first embraces him and passes the donation plate on his behalf before reversing course. To increase the variations on this series of unfortunate events, Rahim also has a screen-addicted little boy who, wait a minute, has a movie stutter and is ultimately forced to star in a humiliating video with the goal of exonerating his unlucky old man. Eat your heart out, Dickens. I've liked Farhadi's other films well enough but not because they're necessarily different from this one. Maybe it's the repetition that's getting to me--or, more likely, the scale he's trying to encompass with A Hero. In his best-known works, The Salesman and A Separation (even The Past, the film that came between the two), Farhadi's focus was lasered in on tensions placed upon marriages, whereas in A Hero, it's a nation on trial, and I'm not sure he has that kind of range. More generously, I'm not convinced I can roll with the idea that the entire world is conspiring against this Job, Rahim. I mean, Farhadi has always been more of a Strindberg than a Kafka.
What's good about A Hero is what's good about all of Farhadi's work. Jadidi's Rahim is a charismatic, enigmatic antihero, impossible to despise even if his decisions remind of Howard Ratner's recklessness in Uncut Gems. He is addicted to the game: never at fault for his compulsive lying and risk-taking; genuinely interested in and in love with his girl, his family, his kid most of all. He's a good person with self-destructive tendencies and a narcissist with all the unctuous charm that implies, but as he's nevertheless capable of empathy, his eventual downfall is less a cause for celebration than one of those things everyone agrees is for the best yet nobody's celebrating it. Mohsen Tanabandeh, as Rahim's debtor Bahram, is likewise incredible. Radiating intelligence, he looks and acts like Mandy Patinkin, all barely-restrained virility. His outrage--that this person he sees as a no-account loser who broke his sister's heart is now being celebrated as some paragon of virtue--is palpable. They have a mid-film scuffle, Rahim and Bahram, and the stakes of it feel real and dangerous. If the film had centred its attention on the relationship between these two men and the complications it entails, if it had ignored the girlfriend's brother subplot, the police and media, the charity event, well, there's the evolution of Fahradi's art that makes sense. The irony of A Hero is that its greater scope doesn't lead to greater insight. It dilutes it.