It would not be entirely accurate to describe the sixth feature from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi as a thriller and yet, from the opening seconds, A Hero exerts a vice-like grip on the viewer. In common with the director’s most-admired films – including the Academy Award winner A Separation – this new film seamlessly marries genre kicks and social injustice.
Thus, Rahim (Amir Jadidi), an unfortunate young man fastened by Dickensian circumstances, is serving time for an unpaid debt when given a two-day leave from prison.
Rahim has made poor choices, especially in his business partner, and is hoping for a better future with his secret fiancee, Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldust). His intended bride, meanwhile, has just found a handbag with 17 gold coins in it, a fortune that may be enough to pay off Braham (Mohsen Tanabandeh), Rahim’s creditor.
This happy coincidence swiftly metastasises into a most unhappy series of events. Farkhondeh cannot claim to have found the money due to a sense of propriety; Rahim coming forward with said claim in her stead ensures that the prison authorities get involved, hoping to capitalise on a good news story. Instead, Rahim’s tale attracts scrutiny and disdain. Rahim’s family and a charity find themselves embroiled in a scandal. And that’s before events take an even more compromising turn.
Amir Jadidi makes for an engaging, complicated leading man, who variously passes as a loveable fool and a contemptible loser, depending on his scene partner. For his guarantor, Bahram Rahim represents the loss of his daughter’s dowry and his life savings. He is horrified and unconvinced by Rahim’s sudden celebrity: “We’re in a world where people are celebrated for not doing wrong,” he growls.
As Rahim’s white lie snowballs into a catastrophe, he finds himself being asked to use his son’s speech impediment to garner sympathy. It’s one of many moral quandaries that makes Farhadi’s script feel like a Choose Your Own Adventure book with no easy paths. Take or leave the gold? Neither. Cover for your girlfriend or get her into trouble? Run!
The bustling streets of Shiraz make for a lively soundscape and spectacle behind the various dilemmas. The playful takeaway seems to be: you can go nowhere and do nothing.