The title of the Amazon Studios release, which won the Grand Prix in Cannes, promises feats of courage and bravery. While there are some of those along the way, the protagonist is also deeply flawed and his circuitous path to redemption challenges the audience’s traditional definitions.
“When people hear the title, they’re looking for a heroic film,” Farhadi said during a virtual panel session at Contenders Film: New York. “But when they see it, they are facing a common man who doesn’t have that much of a heroic side to him. There is a paradox in this title.”
Amir Jadidi plays Rahim, the main character, a divorced father on a two-day leave from debtors’ prison. When he returns a purse containing gold coins, it gains positive attention for Rahim and the prison, but the story takes several twists and turns from there.
A Hero is set in the Iranian city of Shiraz, and the director captures the humanity of the city with the grace notes and compositional touches that have become his signature. Scenes that might have unfolded straightforwardly feature cutaways and lingering shots whose potency is amplified by the lack of a score. Many of those images, Farhadi said via an interpreter, were planned at the script stage, but others were serendipities arising from the city locations.
“Sometimes, you set foot on set and you find these little details that are like these gifts from the world,” he said. One example is a print shop in a glass-walled bazaar that becomes a key location for several scenes. “At the beginning we were looking for stores that were just next to the street, but it wouldn’t satisfy me. I was looking for a specific place that has a specific graphic, lots of glass around. … And then we got into this bazaar, which had a lot of doors and windows.”
The visual power of the windows and glass create a fishbowl-like setting for Rahim’s existential struggle. In addition, Farhadi recalls, “I found that the store in front of it had this image of Charlie Chaplin as The Kid actually looking into our store.” The nod to Chaplin’s famous tramp character adds one more amplification of the story’s themes.
The warm reception for A Hero, Farhadi acknowledged, may have something to do with its release in 2021 as the world grapples with the Covid pandemic and related financial uncertainty. The socio-economic core of the story resonates in urgent ways for many viewers given worsening income inequality and national debt.
“I never thought this would be a story people are watching in 2021,” Farhadi said of his creative process for the film, which Amazon will release theatrically January 7 ahead of its streaming launch on Prime Video on January 21. “But as time passes and the older I get, things happening around me have an impact on me as well. Maybe there are some angles with the story where, if it was made 10 years ago, it wouldn’t have as much impact as it does today.”
Check out the panel video above.
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