TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! Asghar Farhadi already has an incredible reputation as a writer and director, having won and been nominated for more than 100 awards, including winning the Best Foreign Language Academy Award for A Separation. His latest, A Hero, is no exception, as it won the Grand Prix at Cannes.
The story follows Rahim (Amir Jadidi), a calligrapher and painter who’s just been furloughed from prison. He’s in for failing to pay a debt and hopes to set everything straight in his couple of days of freedom. His girlfriend, Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldoust), has found a bag of gold coins, and by selling them, Rahim can at least began paying what he owes and make a deal to secure his release. However, a complication arises in that he has to make a deal with his ex-wife’s family, who has no love for him. Rahim initially had a modest support group consisting of some family members and his son. But when he does something uncharacteristically charitable for a prisoner under such desperate circumstances, many people take notice. The resulting spotlight causes old grudges and problems to come bubbling up to the surface.
Farhadi is, of course, excellent at revealing character through people thrust into morally complicated circumstances. This is achieved in A Hero through a slow build and a masterfully nuanced set of character choices. At first, things seem relatively simple, like there are clear-cut heroes and villains, but as the threads are pulled, almost everyone is resolved into shades of gray.
“He’s in for failing to pay a debt and hopes to set everything straight in his couple of days of freedom.”
Many viewers won’t react well to the “feel-good” story that doesn’t stay that way. It can be torturous to watch the many indignities inflicted on Rahim, a guy who just can’t catch a break. Or at least he can’t keep a break after he’s caught quite a few. But our desire for a heartwarming story and the way we all shade and twist things to achieve it is the point. Both traditional and social media are implicated. The farther we push heroes onto a pedestal, the harder they fall when humans don’t quite live up to the narrative we’ve constructed.
Amir Jadidi delivers an outstanding performance as Rahim, by turns sweet, beset, and filled with impotent rage. Everything he does is so nuanced that it feels organic to the character, never scripted. He’s a normal guy, and like many of us, he can be charming one minute and angry to the point of self-destruction the next. When we put someone in a box, whether mental or physical, we’re dehumanizing them. Letting them out reveals all the multifaceted, beautiful layers of humanity.
There’s a political and cultural message here as well. A Hero illustrates how absurd it is to have people imprisoned for debts. But beyond that, there’s the relentless obsession with character — whether a man is good enough to marry, what makes a worthy bride, even how charities and the prison system, a low-key proxy for the government, are seen or want to be seen. Hypocrisy abounds. I’m sure Iranians will pick up on much more than I did, but while the film is culturally specific, its message is universal.
A Hero screened at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.
"…the harder they fall when humans don’t quite live up to the narrative we’ve constructed."