A good deed goes bad in Asghar Farhadi’s Cannes Film Festival competition title A Hero (Ghahreman), a thought-provoking watch which is perhaps the filmmaker’s most subtle and heartfelt film since A Separation.
Amir Jadidi puts in a charming performance as Rahim, a pleasant but somewhat hapless man who’s in prison in urban Iran for failing to pay a debt. Released for a two-day break, he meets his girlfriend (Sahar Goldust) who’s found a handbag containing gold coins. After plotting to sell them, but wrestling with his conscience, Rahim tries to find the owner and succeeds. When the prison chiefs find out, they’re shocked and thrilled, spinning the story for television. Rahim becomes a local hero, praised for handing in the bag despite his desperate circumstances. But he becomes entwined in a tangled web when the story goes wild on social media.
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Farhadi, a two-time winner in the International Feature Oscar category, is careful not to show any social media on screen, but its heavy presence is still felt in this critique of modern culture. Rahim is gradually persuaded to tweak his story to bend to the demands of the public, whether they want a positive news story or someone to demonize. Essentially, he seems like a decent human being, but he compromises his much-touted “honor” in ways that lead to potential harm to his reputation.
As it takes more and more twists, the story veers on the edge of Shakespearean tragicomedy, with darkly funny results. But the dominant tone is dramatic, and occasionally tense and painful, as we watch our hero make dubious choices. As one of the prison chiefs says, Rahim is either very clever or very simple — the truth may be somewhere in between.
At 127 minutes, it’s a lengthy take on the story and the pace slightly drags towards the end. The narrative is at its most engaging in the first two acts, especially when interrogating the responses to Rahim’s decision to hand in the bag. He’s surprised by the attention, stating it’s just the right thing to do, but he’s lauded with praise that borders on the ridiculous. Just one naysayer — his creditor — verbalizes what some audiences might be thinking: that it’s the least society should expect of a citizen, and that many of us go without thanks for similar behavior.
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