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Asghar Farhadi’s A Hero

The disappearance of good deeds—A subtle political drama about honour

Farhadi's films deal with moral conflicts and tragedies. A Hero is no exception and is perhaps his most outstanding film since A Separation. It's about Rahim, a failed businessman who is in prison for debts he owes to his brother-in-law. In this more conservative part of Iran, one's own problems also still become family problems. It is a matter of keeping face, keeping dignity—and honour. The loss of this increasingly displaces the position of money in the course of the film.

Written by

Lónsi

Sep 12, 2022

© Neue Visionen

During one of his prison leaves, Rahim, with the help of his girlfriend, wants to reclaim his freedom by using a bag of gold coins she has found. However, he is plagued by guilt and decides to return the coins to their rightful owner. Rahim's act is rewarded effusively. The press picks up the story and celebrates him as a hero, and the prison administration takes advantage of this opportunity to wallow in the light of the moral deed. It is most honourable, the prison authorities say enthusiastically and praisingly to Rahim, who suddenly achieves local recognition and fame. This to the goodwill of the jail, which has been discredited for inmate suicides.

As in many films, the plot would conclude at this point — a real act, a real hero, a real feel good film. In Farhadi's films, however, no heroes exist, they are simple people. Calmly but precisely, Farhadi dissects the truth until we find ourselves in a space of ambivalence in which the viewer loses ground about what he can still believe. Heroes are suddenly no longer heroes; in return, there are no antagonists either. Even the creditor, who opposes Rahim's newfound fame from the beginning, gains understanding for his actions after initial antipathy. A Hero is a modern tragedy that moves in shades of good and evil. Everything seems misunderstood and in the end only questions remain — how would we have acted ourselves?

© Neue Visionen

The misfortune of a good deed

The good deed sinks into a chain of conflicts and becomes a nightmare for all involved. Suddenly doubts arise as to whether the story is not made up, because the trail to the gold coins and the supposed owner has disappeared. Rahim’s judgement proves to be naïve. His decisions are influenced by minor casual advice from the prison authorities, family and even a taxi driver, pushing him unwittingly into a free fall.

Every attempt Rahim makes to prove himself only leads more to him losing his credibility and falling into an emotional tailspin. Together with the protagonist, we lose our orientation as to what is still true or right. Farhadi shows the rapidity of today's information-overloaded society, in which media and social networks can create a hero one day and relentlessly crash him again the next.

How could it have come to this? Why can’t everything be easier? We do not seem to be alone in asking these questions. As in Farhadi’s past films, children are stuck in the middle of adult conflicts. Allegorically, Rahim's son, who suffers from a speech disorder, cannot find a hearing for his lack of understanding and can only express with effort and despair that his father is not lying.

Farhadi once again succeeds in showing the effects of interpersonal complexity. The lines of right and wrong blur and the empathy the film creates for each of its characters could act as an antidote in the midst of the Cancel Culture age.

The film begins and ends with Rahim in the prison anteroom. He sits waiting for the staff to lead him back to his cell. In the same shot we see the gate to freedom open, with Rahim observing a released prisoner outside being welcomed to freedom by his wife. In this moment of silence, we share with Rahim the same glimpse into freedom - perhaps also the same questions.

Alternate takes

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