Synopsis: Rahim is in jail for a debt he can’t repay. When a plan to restore his reputation and family goes awry, he unexpectedly gains unwelcome notoriety through a misunderstanding that spirals out of control.
Stars: Amir Jadidi, Mohsen Tanabande, Fereshteh Sadr Orafaee, Sahar Goldoost, Maryam Shahdaie, Ali Reza Jahandideh, Ehsan Goodarzi, Sarina Farhadi, Farrokh Nourbakht
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Running Length: 127 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: Looking at the scope and scale of the nominees that compete for the Best International Feature Film Oscar each year, it’s a remarkable achievement to find yourself nominated. I mean, consider that compared to the relatively small number of films deemed eligible in the other categories, many from only English-speaking countries. To get enough voters not just to see your movie, be moved by it, vote it higher than dozens of others, and then narrow it all down to five nominees? Yeah, that’s a big deal. Now consider the directors who have films that have shown up in this category multiple times. Going further, think of those that have won…and more than once. It’s a smaller number than you might think, and Iranian-born filmmaker Asghar Farhadi is one of them.
Coming into 2011 with an almost sure thing with the universally loved A Separation (which was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay in addition to winning the, as it was then called, Best Foreign Language Film Oscar), Farhadi was back at the ceremony in 2016 to win again with The Salesman. I liked both of those films but felt that all the early praise for them robbed me of my full enjoyment at the surprise of discovering them on my own. While Farhadi has been at the helm of several movies between his Oscar wins and last directed Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz back in 2018, it seems that it could be his time to return to the ceremony…and A Hero would justify the recognition by the Academy.
While it may not rise to the same level for some as the earlier films, which established Farhadi as a director of great esteem, A Hero does assert his talent for telling stories using complex characters in leading roles. Preferring to expose the flaws in us all, with A Hero Farhadi is documenting how good intentions can spiral out of control and wind up doing more harm than good. As Rahim Soltani (a shatteringly good Amir Jadidi) finds out, the more he embellishes a lie he’s designed with innocence, the further he paints himself into a corner from which he can’t get out of without damaging the intricate work he’s done on himself to impress others.
In jail for failing to pay back a debt, Rahim is released on his own recognizance for a small stretch to make arrangements to repay the debt. While he’s out, the plan he had previously made with his love Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldoost) to use the gold coins she’s found in an unclaimed handbag to pay his debtor backfires due to the cost of gold decreasing. Pivoting and attempting to avoid being questioned about the coins by his suspicious sister, Rahim tries to find the bag’s owner from within prison and hopes a reward may be offered. When the bag is picked up by the rightful owner (who promptly vanishes) and Rahim becomes a celebrity due to his purported selfless heroism for returning the coins and not stealing them, it becomes his literal get out of jail free card.
Used as an example by the prison, his family, and a local charity as an example for reform, Rahim’s story is soon questioned. Those with a stake in his actions that got him to this place want answers. His debtor still wants to be paid, and the charity would like to find out more information about the woman who picked up the bag and, more importantly, learn more about how and when Rahim came into possession of the bag in the first place. With a learning-disabled son to provide for, a lover to protect, and his freedom on the line, Rahim charts a dangerous course ahead to solve a mystery of his creation before the clock runs out on the goodwill being bestowed on him.
Moral questions like these, deeply complex ones at that, are hard to come by in mainstream films, which is why Farhadi’s movie is so much appreciated. Not only does A Hero speak to the suspenseful lengths people are willing to go to get what they feel they are entitled to, but also how blindly others accept words as truth without any fact-checking before making up their minds. The film is abundant with questions that make for good post-discussion chatter with friends and posit what you would do in a similar situation.