By Wendy Knowlton
29 June 2022
The opening scene of A Hero follows Rahim (Amir Jadidi) as he leaves prison and heads to the Tomb of Xerxes where his brother-in-law is working. Rahim needs help to pay off a debt and remain free. Dwarfed by the ancient stone walls that tower above him, he negotiates rickety scaffolding and seemingly endless stairs. This exhausting ascent proves something of a metaphor for what follows.
Written and directed by Iranian film marker Asghar Farhadi, this riveting film explores fine lines. Rahim is a good man who can make bad choices. When his lover Farkhondeh (Sahir Boldoust) finds a handbag containing gold coins, the pair plan to sell them and buy Rahim’s liberty. But the value of the coins is insufficient to repay the whole debt, and Rahim’s conscience is troubled. So, he decides to pass what he suspects to be God’s test and return the bag instead. When news of his good deed leaks, the media, the prison and a local charity combine to hail him as a hero. Money is raised on his behalf and pressure is placed on his creditor, Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh) to accept part payment and approve Rahim’s release.
But his story is not quite what was broadcast, and soon he needs to lie to support an unprovable story. We hear Bahram ask peevishly, “Where in the world are people celebrated for not doing wrong?”. Suddenly it seems everyone has an agenda, and all the shining paths that materialised for Rahim start melting away. He loses a job prospect, a new marriage, a relationship with his son, but most importantly, self-respect.
It is impossible for the audience to do anything but yearn for Rahim’s deliverance. Jadidi’s beautifully nuanced performance gives us a man who is impulsive, financially inept and not above temptation. But he does deserve more than he is likely to get. His soulful eyes seem haunted by uncertainty, even in momentary joy. When the world sees him as a hero, he sees himself differently too. The prospect that God might be rewarding him after years of struggle is intoxicating, but it is obvious he cannot really allow himself to trust in this blessing.
It is easier for the world to believe in a scam than a selfless deed, a villain than a hero, and as Rahim’s story is picked apart, things begin to crumble. Television interviews, social media posts, forwarded emails and security camera footage are mined to suggest different truths. “I didn’t lie,” Rahim says despairingly. “But you didn’t tell the truth,” he is told. Has he planned what seemed to be inadvertent? Did he deliberately exploit his stuttering son for sympathy and take advantage of the good nature of others, or is he man who simply did what was right?
The film closes in a shadowy space, but sunlight and a bus about to depart can be glimpsed through an open door. Life beyond the door is tantalisingly close, a reminder of the fine line between what is and what could be.
A Hero is currently showing at Palace Cinemas.