The Movie Waffler New to Amazon Prime Video - A HERO | The Movie Waffler

New to Amazon Prime Video - A HERO

a hero review
A good deed leads to trouble for an imprisoned man seeking to pay off a debt.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Asghar Farhadi

Starring: Amir Jadidi, Mohsen Tanabandeh, Alireza Jahandideh, Sahar Goldoost, Sarina Farhadi

a hero poster

Dozens of movies have revolved around the premise of a protagonist landing in trouble after finding a bag of money and deciding to keep it for themselves. The celebrated Iranian auteur Asghar Farhadi gives us a novel twist on this notion with A Hero. Here, our protagonist, Rahim (Amir Jadidi), finds himself in hot water not because he holds onto a bag of money but because he does the right thing and attempts to return it to its rightful owner.

a hero review

At the start of the movie Rahim is in a debtor's prison (In Iran, if you owe somebody money and can't pay them back, they can decide to have you incarcerated until you come up with the funds). Let out for two days' leave, Rahim unites with his lover, Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldust), who may have stumbled across a way of gaining Rahim's freedom. A week earlier she found a handbag at a bus stop. Inside the bag were 17 gold coins. Using his avuncular brother-in-law Hossein (Ali Reza Jahandideh) as a go-between, Rahim attempts to convince his creditor, Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh), to accept the value of the coins as a down-payment in exchange for his freedom. Rahim argues that once released, he will take a job and pay off the remainder of the debt in instalments.

When Rahim and Farkhondeh have the coins appraised, they find their value is far below what they had estimated. Figuring he's headed back to jail anyway, Rahim decides to return the coins to their owner, placing flyers around town with the phone number of the prison. A woman, Nazanin (Sarina Farhadi, daughter of the director), contacts the prison, and as she seems to know the exact details of the handbag's contents, Rahim puts her in touch with his sister Malileh (Maryam Shahdaie), who returns the bag and its coins. Seizing an opportunity for good publicity, the prison authorities contact the media and alert them to their inmate's good deed. Rahim finds himself praised as a hero and is taken under the wing of an advocacy group who raise money to settle his debt and arrange for him to take a job with the council.

a hero review

Just when it seems all is going well for Rahim, we're reminded that this is an Asghar Farhadi movie. In order to take his job at the council, Rahim is asked to provide proof that the coins were returned to their owner. When Rahim attempts to track Nazanin down, he discovers that she left no trail, having made phone calls from shops and borrowing her taxi driver's phone. As further cracks appear in Rahim's story, his creditor becomes increasingly belligerent, unhappy with how he's been portrayed as the villain of the piece.

Much of A Hero's narrative follows a similar structure to Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves as the bedraggled Rahim races around Tehran in search of Nazanin. Like the put-upon hero of De Sica's film, Rahim is often accompanied by his son, Siavash (Saleh Karimai). In a pivotal moment, Rahim refuses to allow his son to be exploited in a video made by one of the prison authorities who argues that Siavesh's speech impediment will gain Rahim some much needed sympathy. Farhadi makes a worthy argument against the patronising portrayal of disabilities in many films, but he's guilty of such a thing himself. Just like the prison official, Farhadi uses Siavesh's impediment to gain the viewer's sympathy. Siavesh has no real characteristics other than his disability and the use of the boy is a jarringly manipulative misstep in a movie that otherwise refuses to wallow in sentimentality.

a hero review

Far more ambiguous is Farhadi's portrayal of Rahim. Keeping his cards close to his chest, Rahim may well be pulling the wool over both his supporters and the viewer. His true motives for returning the coins are never made explicit, so we're left to wonder if it's a genuinely good deed or a calculated ploy to make himself look heroic. As the narrative progresses we're fed hints that Rahim may well be his own worst enemy, that he's dug a hole in which to bury himself. Switching between a hangdog expression and a shit-eating grin, Jadidi is perfectly cast as Rahim. He wins us over with his charisma and winning smile, but is his charm a little too deliberate? By the end of the movie we're still not sure what to make of Rahim. Has he taken us all for a ride or is he genuinely a victim of bad faith? Ultimately, does it matter when posed against the broader question of whether a man should be imprisoned for simply owing money?

A Hero
 is on Amazon Prime Video now.

2022 movie reviews