‘A Hero’ is Asghar Farhadi’s Latest Masterwork of Moral Knottiness

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A Hero (CREDIT: Amir Hossein Shojaei)

Starring: Amir Jadidi, Mohsen Tanabandeh, Fereshteh Sadrorafaii, Sahar Goldoust, Maryam Shahdaie, Sarina Farhadi, Saleh Karimai

Director: Asghar Farhadi

Running Time: 127 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Some Minor Fisticuffs

Release Date: January 7, 2022 (Theaters)/January 21, 2022 (Amazon Prime Video)

I’ve lately been realizing that I really enjoy movies and TV shows that work as little morality tales, and I especially have to thank Asghar Farhadi for that. The Iranian filmmaker behind the Oscar-winning A Separation and The Salesman is cinema’s current go-to guy for stories about emotionally wrenching dilemmas. A Hero is just the latest example of his probing pieces in which you’ll likely find your allegiances suddenly shifting, as it is abundantly clear that every character is worthy of our sympathy. Existence leaves so many of us in cruel situations, but they’re made easier if we offer a helping hand, though that can be tricky when that helping hand gets in the way of aiding somebody else.

The titular hero is divorced dad Rahim, played by Amir Jadidi with the right mix of diffidence and determination that makes you wonder, how much of a hero is he really? Should we ever hero worship anyone no matter how much we appreciate what they’ve done? He’s currently in prison because of a debt he’s unable to pay off thanks to an unscrupulous business partner. He’s allowed out for a few days, around the time that his secret fiance discovers a bag filled with money. They want to keep it, as it’s potentially enough cash to pay off his debt, but they ultimately decide to instead find the owner. And when they do, Rahim takes the credit, partly to keep the relationship under wraps. This attracts the attention of journalists and a local charity organization, which just might be able to raise enough for Rahim to pay back the loan and get out of prison.

But not so fast! His creditor Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh), who also happens to be his ex-brother-in-law, insists that he’s not willing to forgive the debt if Rahim can’t raise the full amount. And he’s not sure Rahim even deserves any of the money that’s been donated anyway, as he has some doubts about the money bag story. To be fair, it is a little fishy, as Rahim is indeed keeping some details under wraps. And it doesn’t help that the woman with the bag disappears off the face of the Earth after it’s returned to her. (It seems like she’s trying to escape an abusive marriage.)

So Rahim’s path back to freedom won’t be so simple after all. He’s been given a raw deal, although he could certainly help himself out a bit by being less prideful. But you can definitely understand Bahram’s perspective, as well as those of Rahim’s sister and her family, and those of the prison workers, the charity board members, and the woman with the bag.

During Rahim’s stonewalled interactions with Bahram, I couldn’t help but think of the biblical parable of the Prodigal Son. Like the older brother in that story, Bahram is insistent that one’s responsibilities should be taken care of in the proper manner. Bahram’s a sympathetic figure, as it’s clear that Rahim’s past transgressions have seriously hurt his family. But it’s equally clear that he would be better off – and so would everybody – if he instead chose to be more kind. A Hero posits that people are most likely to display kindness when they hear a good story, but that’s not exactly the most encouraging fact of life.

A Hero is Recommended If You Like: Parables, Aesop’s fables, Social dilemmas

Grade: 4 out of 5 Debts

Movie Review: ‘Everybody Knows’ is Another Devastating But Enriching Work From Asghar Farhadi

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CREDIT: Teresa Isasi/Focus Features

Starring: Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Ricardo Darín

Director: Asghar Farhadi

Running Time: 132 Minutes

Rating: R for Spanish Profanity

Release Date: February 8, 2019 (Limited)

If you sit down to watch Everybody Knows, you will probably wonder, “What is it that everybody knows?” I know I certainly did. About a half hour or so in, I had a pretty good idea of what it could be, then that suspicion grew into a more fully formed guess, and ultimately my powers of deduction proved to be precisely on point. I do not say this to toot my own horn, but rather, to explain that Everybody Knows makes the answers to its central mystery crystal clear. Far from being frustrated by obviousness, I appreciated that it guided me to exactly where it wanted me to go.

Having previously seen The Salesman and now this latest feature, I know the films of Asghar Farhadi to be about the trauma of outside forces testing the strength of familial units. In this case, the kidnapping of a teenage girl is the impetus for revealing one family’s most sacred secrets. Laura (Penélope Cruz) is a Spanish woman living in Argentina who has returned to her hometown with her two kids in tow for a wedding. When her daughter Irene (Carla Crampa) disappears, she is forced to resolve what lingers from the past with her childhood friend and former lover Paco (Javier Bardem). Farhadi has a knack for understanding that the potential paths of highly stressful situations can swing on a pendulum from further disaster to healing reconciliation. The resolution of Everybody Knows is profoundly, cathartically satisfying – the work of a master craftsman operating like clockwork.

Everybody Knows is Recommended If You Like: Asghar Farhadi’s filmography, The Vanishing

Grade: 4 out of 5 Family Secrets

This Is a Movie Review: The Salesman

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the_salesman_2017_movie

This review was originally published on News Cult in January 2017.

Starring: Shahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidoosti

Director: Asghar Farhadi

Running Time: 125 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Scars Both Physical and Emotional

Release Date: January 27, 2017 (Limited)

The Iranian film The Salesman (an Oscar nominee this year for Foreign Language Film) starts off as a sort of slice-of-life tale that is a bit of a bummer. Then its climax turns it into a major bummer – a life-altering journey through hell. Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) are a young couple whose move to a new house coincides with their work on a production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. It turns out that the former occupant of their new place may have been a prostitute, which they discover when a former client shows up and leaves Rana bruised and bloodied.

Following the attack, The Salesman is a study in the day-to-day of young artistic professionals in Iran (it does not feel too different than it often does in America or Europe), but with the dark cloud of post-traumatic stress hanging over. Rana is hardly able to bear any time alone, and the dramatic weight of the play is too much for her to get through. (I am uncertain why Death of a Salesman was chosen as the production. Any thematic connection to Emad and Rana’s story is rather oblique – not a criticism, just an observation.) The acting is pleasantly naturalistic, and there is a cute child performance, but it is an unpleasant watch that just glides along uneasily thanks to an otherwise peaceful existence being rocked by violence.

For the last act, The Salesman really leans into that unease, making the experience even more painful but also more rewarding. Emad has declined to go to the police, instead taking the investigation into his own hands. When the culprit turns out to be someone completely unexpected, a whole Pandora’s Box of moral conundrums spills open. There is no happy way for this to end, and writer/director Asghar Farhadi (A SeparationThe Past) does not shy away from any of the devastating implications. The feeling you get after watching The Salesman is the definition of “shook.”

The Salesman is Recommended If You LikePrisoners

Grade: 4 out of 5 Pleas for Forgiveness