de facto film reviews 3 stars

In his first film since his 2016 Oscar winning The Salesman, Iranian filmmaker, Asghar Farhadi, once again merges social commentary with realism as he explores the lives of ordinary characters living day-to-day in the city of Shiraz, Iran. A Hero is a gripping and heartbreaking tale about a con man whose life faces a turning point for the worse where he constantly has to backtrack his lies, and yet you find yourself involved with him even when you know the truth will set him free. Despite being a step down from his previous films, the new film is still compelling but far less emotionally engaging than A Separation, The Past, and The Salesman. The film is still generating huge critical acclaim and, even though the material is a little downbeat, as most Farhadi films often are, this film should earn Farhadi another Oscar nomination for Best International Film, even though it appears Ryosuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car has the momentum to take the prize for Best International Film.

Farhadi’s protagonist anti-hero this time is Rahim (Amir Jadidi), who is serving a prison sentence for unpaid debts to his creditor, Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh), who holds no mercy for Rahim’s plight in possibly reducing his sentence with the courts. Some fortunate events turn in Rahim’s favor, once he’s released from jail for a few days while he meets with his girlfriend, Farkhondeh (Sahar Godoust), who has just found a purse that has a large sum of gold coins. While the price of gold plummets, the value of the coins only covers a fraction of the debt Rahim owes to Bahram. Rahim comes up with a scheme to advertise fliers attempting to find the owner of the purse, in hopes he can have a better self-image and in hopes there will be public pressure for Bahram to reverse his sentence to the courts, because under Iranian law, the creditor has the power to concede a reduction of a sentence to their debtors.

A Hero review – powerful moral drama from a master of Iranian cinema |  Drama films | The Guardian

Eventually, Rahim appears to be a local “hero” as his story gets nationwide exposure in the media. The woman claims the gold, Rahim’s story moves a lot of people in the public eye, and he becomes a media sensation through news channels, newspapers, and social media platforms. He tells lies that he could have easily used the money to pay off his debt–but he decided to do the moral thing and return the coins back to the owner. This also gains the attention of a charity who is deeply moved by Rahim’s story, and they agree to raise the money to excuse his debts.

The earlier scenes of the film create a heartbreaking portrait of desperation. Rahim is confined to prison, with his life passing by, and while his actions are certainly morally questionable–Farhadi utilizes the moral conundrum neo-realism style to build empathy for his survival in a very non-judgmental approach that echoes that parable of a Dardenne Bros (L’Enfant, Rosetta) or even a Sean Baker film (The Florida Project, Red Rocket). As audiences, we can always question and doubt ethics and behaviors, but Farhadi has always delivered an empathetic power to his work that raises a lot of ambiguities and moral complexities.

A Hero - Clip 1 [ov st en] - Cineuropa

Like Italian neorealism and the works of Dardenne, Farhadi uses a docudrama style of frantic handheld camera work that captures the realism that transports you to a vividly accurate world, as if the viewer is just eavesdropping on a working-class father in Iran. Highly flawed but vulnerable in his actions, Rahim still holds a lot of honor for his family and child, even when things take a turn for the worse. Farhadi also dives into Bahram’s back story and why he holds so much disdain towards Rahim. There is a lot of conflict between the two, and it allows Farhadi to explore class division that sadly keeps individuals pitted against each other. But it doesn’t mean Bahram doesn’t have his reasons. There is also empathy for Bahram in why he holds so much tension towards Rahim.

The motivation and the backstory only become clear near the hour point of the film. They have known each other for years, and the debt has been owned for quite a few years. We eventually discover that Rahim has a son who has a speech disability, and it almost appears he’s using him as a prop to gain sympathy, which the public charity that’s working with Rahim, along with the pundits, do put pressure on Rahim, until he eventually caves in. However, Bahram, along with a few others, is onto the scheme and holds a lot of questions towards Rahim and Farkhandah’s contradictions and loose ends in their story. Rahim ends up finding his world collapsing around him as the truth begins to come out once the loose ends are revealed, especially since the woman who claimed the coins ends up disappearing, which only makes Rahim’s story appear to be more fraudulent.

A Hero' Trailer: Asghar Farhadi Is An Oscar Frontrunner For Best  International Feature

While the climax of the film ends up becoming quite banal with unearned ambiguity, Farhadi once again triumphs in terms of characterization by adding empathy for his characters. While Rahim has faults, Farhadi finds social graces in his character as we learn about his troubled past, while Rahim’s son is an inarticulate, semi-literate kid, which makes you hope Rahim can be more part of his life. There is also a very powerful scene where Rahim confronts Bahram inside of his shop, where you feel remorse for both men as their history comes crashing in as Bahram’s daughter is caught in the middle.
Farhadi once again explores the human condition. He also does it once again with genuineness and grace. He doesn’t look at Rahim as being wrong or right, instead he just focuses on a complex individual who’s trying to look out for him and his own son’s interests. He shows the absolute best and even worst traits of humanity. While slightly overlong with some frustrating ambiguity that doesn’t feel quite earned, A Hero still captures a harsh reality of the underclass of Iran, where Farhadi delivers heart to what is rather tragic and bleak material.