By Lynn Venhaus
While actions usually have consequences, what is it that we can live with – the choices we make that aren’t always so black-and-white. The superbly crafted “A Hero” is about that gray area, which we all have experienced. Aarrgggghhh, Life!
Rahim Soltani (Amir Jadidi) is in jail for a debt he can’t repay. On a weekend furlough, desperate to erase the debt, his plan goes awry – and he gains notoriety over finding a bag of money. That, too, goes south because he doesn’t keep the story straight. A misunderstanding then spirals out of control, and as he attempts to restore his reputation, he must make some tough decisions.
Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi knows this subject very well. He has explored dilemmas of conscience in his two Oscar-winning films, “A Separation” in 2011 and “The Salesman” in 2016.
“A Hero” won the 2021 Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival and will likely be an Oscar nominee.
In “A Hero,” the stakes are high, and Farhadi convincingly builds a compelling case about a decent (we think) guy who is beset by a series of unfortunate events, which at times is subtle and other times is heart-wrenching.
A smart, perceptive filmmaker, Farhadi tackles the complexities of morality in his home country, for the lines drawn aren’t always so definitive, but it is that universality that grabs us.
At first, soulful actor Amir Jadidi depicts Rahim’s frustration with the system and with the unyielding stance of the creditor that we are sympathetic to his plight. Rahim is in prison because of a debt he was unable to repay. During a two-day leave, he tries to convince his creditor to withdraw his complaint.
He has served three years. During his brief respite he sees his girlfriend Farkhondeh (Sahar Godust), a secretive relationship so far, who found money on the street – 17 gold coins! They are euphoric about this stroke of luck because they think they’ll be on easy street – sell them and pay off the debt, they can marry, but the fluctuating gold prices won’t cover what he still owes to Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh), a thoroughly unsympathetic man who turned against Rahim very early. He does not want a partial payment – he demands it in full. (Oh, and he’s Rahim’s ex-wife’s brother-in-law. Like I said, it’s complicated.)
Farhadi’s realistic approach includes unfolding Rahim’s motives clearly at first, but as the story takes a few unexpected detours, we see this desperate yet good-hearted man shift his priorities. Is it better to do the right thing for us or the right thing for others? Can they co-exist or that impossible?
Like such much of life, things do not always go as planned. Add to this race against time complicated family dynamics, which gives the film a broader viewpoint.
Rahim can’t catch a break. He sees his son ((Saleh Karimai), who has been staying with his sister and brother-in-law. Their reunion is rocky, and that’s just one of the plot threads that add up to a significant messy situation.
Rahim’s sad young son stutters, and there are simmering emotions, exasperating conflicts and a boy who needs his father. Karimai grabs our hearts, and you feel where both guys are coming from, and trying to work through.
And just sometimes, children teach their parents. And parents need their children as much as the kids need them.
The prison finds out Rahim tracked down the real owner of the coins and contacts a TV station for them to feature such an upstanding prisoner. The publicity backfires. Of course. Let’s follow down the rabbit hole.
Jadidi’s eyes are windows to Rahim’s soul, and with his beautiful smile, his performance is key to how your feelings shift through the weekend.
Should our loyalties be with him? Is he sincere or is he playing people, strings attached? Is he honorable or is he a schemer? We change our minds about him as doubts creep in– and it’s a deft display of Farhadi’s gifts. But if he is a good man, why should he go through such hell?
Farhadi’s well-constructed ambiguous drama shows us what a slippery slope life is, and how, even with the best of intentions, no good deed goes unpunished.
This international film is such a fascinating account of a thorny situation with ripple effects, which translates to other cultures and speaks to our humanity – in any language.
“A Hero” is a 2021 international drama directed by Asghar Farhadi and stars Amir Jadidi, Sahar Godust, Mohsen Tanabandeh, Saleh Kanmai. It is rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and language and its run time is 2 hours, 7 minutes. It is in select theatres Jan. 7 and streaming on Amazon Prime Jan. 21. Lynn’s Grade: A
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat daily newspaper. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association.