A Hero (2021) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Another complex moral drama from Asghar Farhadi

Iranian film “A Hero”, which was released on Amazon Prime in US in last week, is another knockout work from Asghar Farhadi, a masterful Iranian filmmaker who suddenly became quite more prominent to many of us thanks to his great film “A Separation” (2011). After deservedly receiving an Oscar for “A Separation”, Farhadi has seldom disappointed us during last 10 years, and I am glad to report here that “A Hero” is as compelling and enthralling as you can expect from his latest work.

At first, the movie slowly lets us gather its hero’s difficult current circumstance. Due to his failure to pay off lots of debt caused by his big business failure, Rahim Soltani (Amir Jadidi) has been imprisoned for several years, but he is recently allowed to have a two-day leave outside the prison, and we see him going to some old historical site where his brother-in-law Hossein (Alireza Jahandideh) works. It turns out that Rahim has some plan for persuading his creditor to withdraw the complaint against the payment of a part of his debt, and Hossein is certainly willing to help.

Rahim’s plan is based on a handbag acquired on a street by coincidence. This handbag contains a small but very valuable property on a street, and Rahim and his girlfriend Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldoost), whom he will marry once he is released, are going to sell it for getting enough money to convince his creditor, though his creditor is still not willing to reply to him for a personal reason to be revealed later in the story.

However, as he is trying to sell this valuable property along with Farkhondeh, Rahim comes to have second thoughts. While he is still tempted to use it for his own benefit, he also comes to feel some conscience, so he decides to look for the real owner of that property. He and Farkhondeh later put a notice with a telephone number to his prison here and there in the city, and, what do you know, a woman soon contacts with those prison authorities on the phone, and then this woman comes to Hossein’s house or retrieving that property.

Although she does not say much about herself, it looks like this woman is the real owner of that property, and she even gladly gives some little reward for that after leaving Hossein’s house. Once they come to learn about Rahim’s good deed, those prison authorities want it to get reported widely on the media mainly for enhancing the public image of their prison, and Rahim gladly goes along with that because that may benefit him more.

And things subsequently go quite well for him during next several days. After his story is reported on TV, he finds himself regarded as a hero by many people in the city, and a certain prominent charity foundation is willing to help him via collecting enough money for getting him released. As a matter of fact, a considerable amount of money is quickly collected from numerous people shortly after Rahim’s young son Siavashi (Saleh Karimaei), who incidentally has struggled with a speech impediment, tries to make a statement for helping his father in front of others, and Rahim even gets a job offer from the city government.

However, the situation soon becomes much more complex than expected. While Rahim’s creditor is not so eager to settle his financial matter with Rahim, Rahim subsequently faces a serious obstacle when he later attempts to get hired as promised by the city government. The official handling his case adamantly demands more verification on what really happened, and that leads Rahim into a series of more troubles. To make matters worse, the negative rumors about him are spread around in the city, and that makes him and a few others around him more desperate and frustrated than before.

As its hero’s circumstance becomes increasingly messy due to several unwise actions of him and some other characters in the story, Farhadi’s dexterous screenplay steadily grabs our attention as gradually accumulating tension and suspense under the screen. While we are not so surprised to learn later that Rahim was not totally honest from the beginning, we are caught off guard by how that leads to more absurdity and desperation around him, and there is a painfully ironic moment later in the story as he may have to make another lie for saving his face as much as possible.

As usual, Farhadi, who received the Grand Prix when the movie was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in last year, draws good performances from his main cast members. While never making any excuse on his character’s unlikable aspects, Amir Jadidi gives an unadorned but strong performance as the tarnished human center of the film, and he is also supported well by several other cast members including Sahar Goldoost, Mohsen Tanabandeh, Maryam Shahdaei, Alireza Jahandideh, and Sarina Farhadi, who is incidentally Farhadi’s daughter and previously gave a memorable supporting performance in “A Separation”. The special mention goes to young performer Saleh Karimaei, and he is simply heartbreaking during one crucial scene where his character is pushed to do something for Rahim even though he is not so willing to do it from the start.

Overall, “A Hero”, which was selected as Iran’s official submission to Best International Film Oscar in last year and then was included in the shortlist in last month, shows Farhadi back in element after his previous film “Everybody Knows” (2018), which is fairly engaging but feels rather subpar compared to “A Separation” and many of his other works including “The Past” (2013) and “The Salesman” (2016). In short, this is another highlight of last year, and I assure you that its very last scene will linger on your mind for a while after it is over.

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