Iranian auteur Asghar Farhadi is not the first director to do such (Ozu, Rohmer) but his 2021 entry A Hero not only feels like a companion piece to a previous work (2011’s A Separation in particular)- but his two films are even named as though they two parts of whole. Farhadi has seemingly an unmatched gift for creating moral tales that are both domestic dramas and white-knuckle intense thrillers. Perhaps only fellow realists- The Dardenne Brothers- deserve comparison to Farhadi (a compliment to them both).
This is Farhadi’s return to his native Iran after 2018’s Everybody Knows in Spain.
Amir Jadidi plays Rahim. Rahim is out of prison for a two-day leave. He was in prison because of a debt he was unable to pay. This is not dissimilar to the set-up for The Dardenne’s Two Days, One Night (2014). Needless to say- things do not go as planned for Rahim as he tries to get his creditors to remove the complaint which would free him. Rahim heads right for this glorious mountain rock set piece when leaving prison. He walks every stair during the credits.
This is cinema verité handheld realism. Farhadi’s work is very verbal- and for most of the running time there is not an interesting shot or composition to speak of.
A Hero is a moral tale- debts and customs in Iran. This is a story of humiliation, honor, insult.
Rahim is brilliant character- as layered as any character by Farhadi. Other characters are often “fooled by his hangdog look” as the text suggests- he seems trustworthy at times. Characters justify their behavior, find a lost bag full of money, the media plays a role—a labyrinth of truth and rationalization.
Farhadi is in total command- every inflection in the voice and character detail is there by design. In one scene at dinner, every kid distracted by an electronic device or ringing phone going off is a choice by Farhadi.
Farhadi immerses the audience in Rahim’s plight as he peels back the complex layers of Rahim’s character and the mouse trap surrounding him. There are no villains in Farhadi’s universe- the mouse trap is the villain- and everyone sees life from their own perspective. “I didn’t lie”… “but you didn’t tell the truth”.
The final shot is a stylistic boom of a stunner. At the 122-minute mark Rahim returns to prison. As he waits to go back inside (heartbreaking) he watches another man get released. Farhadi captures this man in a doorway. Farhadi uses the doorway as a frame within a frame (Ozu). Rahim witnesses this stranger feel the warm embrace of his (the stranger)’s wife, and then takes the bus to leave. Farhadi holds this shot for three minutes and this shot is so sublime that it levels up the entire film. This is also very similar to how Farhadi ends A Separation with the Antonioni-like physical divide between the Nader (Payman Maadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) characters. This shot is undeniably one of the best sequences in cinema in 2021- but it also is a bit frustrating as Farhadi is clearly capable of hitting cinematic highs like this yet does not do so for essentially two hours of running time prior to this shot.
Like the work of any great auteur this film improves the rest of his oeuvre.
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