Moral Dilemmas

Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi has seen his reputation as a filmmaker grow with every movie he’s made over the past two decades. Yet whilst he has successfully ventured into Europe for films like The Past and Everybody Knows, he is seemingly at his best when he is on home soil. That’s very much the case for his latest work, A Hero, which won the Cannes Film Festival’s second place – or Grand Jury Prize – last year.

Set in the Iranian city of Shiraz, with its impressive ancient monuments casting a watchful eye over inhabitants, it begins as family man Rahim (Amir Jadidi) is given two days leave from prison, where he is serving time for a debt owed to his ex-brother-in-law, a shopkeeper named Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh). Desperate to get his life back on track, he spies an opportunity when his fiancé Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldust) finds a mislaid handbag at a bus stop with 17 gold coins in it.

Initially, he considers selling the bounty to repay the money he owes, but he soon realizes the coins aren’t worth what he needs. Instead, he does the right thing and advertises the lost bag – which is soon reunited with a woman claiming to be its owner. This good deed sees Rahim celebrated by the prison’s warden, who wants to revere his inmate for his honourable behaviour. He is even invited on local television to explain his altruistic act, turning him into something of a minor celebrity.

Yet in the age of social media, there are cyber-snipers out there waiting to shoot him down – and events soon conspire against him. “Nothing is fair in this world,” remarks a taxi driver, who gets caught up in the story, and it almost feels like a statement that could come straight from Farhadi. With an ironic title like ‘A Hero’, the director questions exactly the meaning of ‘heroism’ away from movie fantasy.

At the film’s core, the quietly forceful Jadidi is superb as Rahim, a man imprisoned by both Draconian laws and actions that will become his undoing. Building to a thoughtful crescendo with total precision, it’s yet another measured and incisive look at Iranian society from Farhadi. Best of all, it showcases a story that has universal themes – hypocrisy, deceit, and greed – that will resonate with any audience.

A Hero is in cinemas from 7 January. For more details, click here.

Words: James Mottram