4 May 2022

Review: A Hero

From At The Movies, 7:30 pm on 4 May 2022

Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi is one of the leading film-makers in the world, with two Best Foreign Film Oscars to his name for the brilliant A Separation and the, for me, even better The Salesman. 

And last year he picked up the Grand Prix at Cannes for A Hero, which belatedly comes out here this week.

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Photo: Supplied

Farhadi is a master story-teller – some say the best currently working in films. And his secret is dishing out information on a “need to know” basis.  

In A Hero we meet Rahim, currently in jail for bankruptcy. He’s been allowed out for a weekend.

Rahim is a nice guy, but easily led. He got into debt when he took out a loan to start a business, and his business partner absconded with the money.

Now he owes a lot of money to Bahram, a relative of his estranged wife.  But because he’s in jail, there’s no way he can raise the money to pay off the debt.

So, who’s the bad guy here? That’s always the question in a Farhadi movie. And the answer always shifts as the movie progresses.

Rahim has a new girlfriend - the speech therapist of his young son, who has a bad stammer. And the girlfriend finds an expensive bag, with some gold coins in it.

It’s not enough to pay off all the debt, but perhaps Bahram will relent and forgive the rest of what he’s owed.

But then suddenly Rahim deciders to do something unlikely and noble. He’ll try and find the owner of the bag and give the coins back.

And this is the start of a long and winding road for Rahim in the pointedly titled A Hero. 

He gives the money back, and word gets out about his generous gesture. He appears on TV, and various organisations – for their own reasons and purposes – praise his selfless actions.

The only people less than happy are Bahram, the disgruntled creditor, and his family. If Rahim’s a hero, Bahram finds himself cast as the bad guy – the cruel bully forcing Rahim into jail with no chance of getting out.

He’s being forced to give away a fortune and watch his family suffer, he says.

But as A Hero progresses, new things come to light. Not everything Rahim said is quite how it happened – and his reputation as a hero takes a knock. And as always, the media are all too happy to choose a new direction for a story.

Now Rahim’s girlfriend – the one who found the bag originally – is dragged into the potential scandal. Her family accuses her of bringing them into disrepute.

It’s a mess in other words, but mostly a mess if you go into it expecting easy, cut and dried heroes and villains. And every time we think we know, director Farhadi adds another strand to the plot line.  

Rahim may not be the hero the media initially wanted, but nor is he the villain they want now. Particularly painful for him is seeing it through the eyes of his son, whose speech impediment indirectly led to the dilemmas they’re all facing now.

The impeccable blend of character and story is why Farhadi is so respected as a film-maker. There may be no easy answers, but nor does he cop out when it comes to letting us know exactly what happened, and why they did it. 

Everyone had their reasons, he says, which makes the ending of A Hero so painfully satisfying.