A Hero (2021)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4 stars out of 5)

A Hero (2021) Directed by Asghar Farhadi

No one does social realism as tense and tightly constructed suspense as the proficient Iranian director Asghar Farhadi. Moral conflicts that interact with the same violence as thousands of gunshots in an action film, hand-held camera that penetrates the intimacy and psychology of contemporary Iran and an austere intellectualism that between subtle criticism and the multidimensionality of Iranian society’s problems observes without prejudice what surrounds his characters and how their decisions represent the genesis of the politics intrinsic to their history.

We could fall into saying that it is Farhadi doing more of the same, and I certainly think that it is precisely more of Farhadi doing what he does best, it is a film of a director staying in his comfort zone, and to tell the truth, I hope it is a perennial habit and stays that way, because his cinema presents an impeccable originality in substantial filmmaking, although the artisticity never participates with a singular style, the themes that this authenticity represents in the development of the narratives and the language that is perpetually interpreted with a middle ground, without objectifying the conflicts, make this form of filmmaking a profound encounter with another culture that thinks, lives and believes differently from us but dreams, fears and loves the same as us. It is cinema with a universal language, it expands through identifiable subjectivism the moral principles of a religious political perspective yet the gentle dialectic opens up so many forms of empathy and comprehension that these minimalist elements visually control an immersive real world which feels just as it is, with nothing to alter.

A Hero has the same palpable textures of Farhadi’s filmography, and it has the tones of complexity that make his films great experiences, but if there is at least one point to highlight that is completely novel in this film that he hasn’t done before, it would be especially the expressive yet elliptical level of storytelling sophistication of the first act. The steadiness of the storytelling is so balanced that there is no timidity of eliminating aspects that usually in a thriller would be of obligatory argumentation, here the plot describes with acts, with the nerves and with a growing tension that are cerebrally developing the plot; the necessary patience to solve this scrutinized method of storytelling leads us to a collision of moral factors that within these characteristics is born a beautiful human drama. The more than perfect performances give the film a judicious personality that gives the necessary time for us also to confront the questions that originate a maelstrom of wrong decisions as well as… good decisions?

Farhadi’s aim is not to synthesize the answers that can be obtained but rather to leave an interpretative freedom without any consensus. And that is what makes this Iranian film a fascinating and incisive study of human behavior in a modern Iran.

Rahim (Amit Jadidi) is a man who is in prison for an outstanding debt. While taking a few days off, his girlfriend (Sahar Goldust) tells him that she has found some gold coins in the street, with which Rahim could pay a part of the money to his creditor. However, he decides to look for the person who lost the treasure and return it to him. The news of his good deed is reported in the local news and he becomes a hero, but this will bring unimaginable consequences for all involved. Along the way morality and internal conflicts will play a key role in Rahim’s life, who must decide between ”right” or ”wrong” in order to win his freedom.

When one thinks of suspense cinema one automatically thinks of nerve-racking emotions and claustrophobic moments that generate nail-biting thrills, the films of one of the most competent international directors, Asghar Farhadi, taught us that the stirring force of watching suspenseful cinema can also be obtained through the gravitas of a drama. A Hero is another drama loaded with political, social and human commentary in his phenomenal filmography, those three ingredients configurate a cinema that somehow transfigures the conventional norms of thriller cinema; mainly because of multiple factors, I would not be comfortable specifying that Farhadi’s filmography is entirely ”artistic” and with purposes more inclined towards aestheticism, his oeuvre is far from the advanced formalism and potent transcendental energy of a film that would usually be considered belonging to the intricate ambivalence of the meaning of ”art house” film when it meets those requirements. However, this film respects the patterns of Iranian artistic rigor with a meaningful, very human and culturally very own depth; Iranian cinema is one of the richest, most subjective, most complex and most curious in the history of cinema, Farhadi’s films represent modern Iran with an amplified view and an unwavering inquisitive quest to give reasons to contemporary society. After having made shattering masterpieces such as A Separation (2011) it is clear that Iranian cinema has metamorphosed a lot throughout its history, it has faithfully maintained the neo-realist essence narratively but naturally the themes have progressed to be more incisive with the socio-political ethos. Since the new wave of Iranian cinema in the 1960’s, Iranian cinema has formed a humanistic eloquence that despite giving us perspectives centered on Persian society, the effects generated by the conflicts and the vast space it is poetically left to express its characters is universally appreciated, it is an incredibly identifiable cinema. A Hero works because of its open look at society, and how the people who make up that society respond to the dissimilarities but above all to the disturbing moral questions that are aggressively unleashed in the drama.

The masterful beginning has the audacity to develop the plot with empty spaces, gaps that we must fill with our imagination, that fundamental creative and participatory part is activating the visual energy in something purely intellectual. The progress of the plot unveils many important facts of the narrative, which are contradicting their characters, essentially the main character, played by Amir Jadidi, in an extraordinary performance, making expressly patent the acting level that this production has. What makes the suspense explode, what transforms this dense drama into something agitated, anxious and prominently kinetic, is the doubt that is engendered from us towards the characters, who at some extent we believed in them. The main character always has noble intentions, naturally many of his decisions are made taking into account the serious effects they have on his son, who suffers from a severe stuttering problem. These details preach an exercise in empathy, which is effective in large measure for the right reasons, the skepticism in the drama intercepts us violently, consequently we do not objectively give an opinion to what we are seeing and much less to what is happening, it is a function that integrates an intellectual debate on human morality in relation to religious politics, which is intrinsic to this film.

Sequences as simple as watching a family have dinner in their warm home in this film can become somewhat intense, the participation of a rigorous camera when studying the staging emphasizes certain aspects such as psychologically destabilizing the main character with minimal elements; obviously having to know that your future depends on just two days in which you must make the right decisions should in itself confirm the degree of nervousness that the main character finds himself. But that’s occasional, the conversations here have a meekness that, while laboriously executed with the subtlety of an intelligent drama, skillfully maintain the same energy of any other fast-paced action movie. It may be an irony, but it functions because of that satisfaction of seeing situational realism, of seeing organic philosophical concerns that paralyze us as well as help us expand our sense of cultural diversity in cinema. Farhadi has never made entirely didactic cinema, yet he has given us an appreciation, an approach, a raw glimpse at human relationships with all their complexities, assiduously engaging us not to judge what we see but to intellectually perceive the ”why” of what we see.

Highly complex not structurally but thematically, A Hero approaches its characters with the need to express and discuss a lot, the pace is hermetically integrated into the social commentary at a strong and sincere dramatic point, the social descriptions and the bravura exposition of the transcendent themes in that dramatic tour-de-force is the inscrutably brilliant thing about this film.

Matteo Bedon

Written by

When I'm not watching and studying films, I'm writing about them. Part-time essayist and full-time film critic.

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