LFF 2021: A Hero
A Separation director Asghar Farhadi returns with another Catch-22 tale of ethical quagmire. The result is a pressure cooker of a social realist piece, and his most universal film yet
Even in a cinematic tradition renowned for its unparalleled subtlety and moral thorniness, there is still no one doing it quite like Asghar Farhadi. With A Hero, the Iranian New Wave director of About Elly and A Separation returns with another Catch-22 tale of ethical quagmire, a pressure cooker of a social realist piece that battens down Iran’s rigid and complex structures of honour, propriety, and obligation and waits for the inevitable explosion.
The titular hero is Rahim (Amir Jadidi), a gentle, puppy dog-eyed divorcé imprisoned for an outstanding debt. When his girlfriend discovers a bag of lost gold coins, it sets off a domino effect of misunderstandings and ethical quandaries. As with most of Farhadi’s films, the catalysts that sink his protagonist deeper into dilemma seem incidental, but Farhadi knows well how the ground beneath can collapse with the thinnest fracture, how the court of public opinion can turn on the smallest dime.
As Farhadi carefully assembles his tottering house of cards, painting Rahim into impossible corners and imbuing each character with ulterior motives of which even they themselves are perhaps not aware, a heart pounding spectacle of moral obscurity emerges. Rahim climbs the archaeological site where his brother-in-law works, his ascent framed against the azure sky; moments later, his girlfriend clunks down the stairs of her apartment building to meet him, her descent fragmented in jump cuts. Rise and fall is metaphorical, until it is not.
Set in Iran and definitively occupied with the country’s strict social mores, A Hero is nevertheless Farhadi’s most universal film yet, concerned less with categorising Rahim as a hero or a charlatan than with what it means to behave ethically and unselfishly in an increasingly visible world, where every act – even the quietest – is laid out for public consumption. “One can always prioritise good deeds over personal interest,” Rahim is told. Yet as the boundaries between public and private, moral and performative, collapse, who can say where the difference lies.
A Hero had its UK premiere at London Film Festival