This past year has served us with numerous excellent non-English speaking movies. It is enough to think about Sorrentino’s highly biographical and courageous “The Hand of God” or Almodóvar’s tear-filled journey from cradle-to-grave “Parallel Mothers”. I strongly encourage everyone to look for and find their reading glasses, hit Netflix and “its friends” up or even better, go to the movies (!) and see some or all the foreign language movies nominated in this awards season. I guarantee it will be a wild adventure that spans from Japan to Germany. And now, brew yourself a good Persian tea and get some cubes of sugar, we are going to Iran! My pick for best non-English speaking movie is “A Hero”.
A HERO (IRAN)
“Where in the world are people celebrated for not doing wrong?”
Rahim Soltani is a young, working-class father struggling to buy his freedom from debtors’ prison. During his two-day leave he attempts to settle his unpaid debt to his former brother-in-law but a lost handbag and seventeen gold coins make things complicated and put Rahim and his family on a moral and emotional rollercoaster ride.
The word ‘empathy’ has a beautiful equivalent in Farsi. It roughly translates to “two hearts getting close to each other and eventually becoming one”. Two-time Academy Award winning writer-director, Asghar Farhadi explains in a recent interview, empathy is his major goal when it comes to his work as a filmmaker. Evoking empathy between characters, characters and audiences and between audience members. He says it is all about understanding, or at the very least, trying to understand each other’s motives and standpoints in life.
If we take a look at his body of work from the heart-breaking realism of “A Separation” (2011) to the grand scale earthquake-like drama of “Everybody Knows” (2018), it is easy to see his movies are constantly filled with much heart and gentleness. He tends to focus on families in deep moral and legal troubles, everyday people carrying immense burdens, pains and secrets. Farhadi could be considered one of the last “knights” from long-forgotten times when the given word, honor and real rapport still had a significant meaning.
“A Hero” (2021) is the perfect new instalment in Farhadi’s universe. Everyday troubles become the tectonically triggers of a human drama that blends with elements of thriller. Farhadi says there is no small crisis in life, there is no small detail that does not count.
The movie was entirely filmed in Shiraz because Farhadi claims to have felt that it is one of the only places left in Iran where close-knit family relationships, an old school conservative approach to caring for each other, taking on each other’s problems as if they were ours, still exist.
“A Hero” is an engaging piece with a gentle dynamic. I am sure some audience members will enjoy the calmly unfolding ride while others will take it as a challenge for their short attention span. Attention span is not one of the components Farhadi pays attention to while we follow Rahim’s rise and fall as the local hero. However, he does meditate on the role of social media, celebrity and cancel culture quite a lot. In our fast paced life, due to good marketing and social media strategies anyone can become a well-known figure and rise to fame from one moment to the other. However, by the pricking of a thumb, the digital world that scales someone’s value high up can destroy it as well. So called “heroes” can be rapidly created and especially those that are vulnerable and follow moral principles can easily fall and fade.
Farhadi also questions if heroes truly exist, and reflects on the many definitions behind the word, hero. In his gripping story, nobody is a hundred per cent hero just like nobody is a true anti-hero. Shiraz is a great city with much history and an organic sense of nostalgia. Many Iranian prominent historical figures were born or rose to the top of their profession in Shiraz. Therefore, the concept of making a film about heroes and their journeys is a wonderful match with the location.
During the opening, we see Rahim on a construction site, walking up the many steps of a scaffold that seem to lead to the sky. Shortly after finding his brother-in-law who he had been looking for, he is asked to quickly make his way down to the ground.
In the first scene, we meet his girlfriend, Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldust), she is leaving her apartment, walking downstairs full of excitement for meeting Rahim again. (The shots and quick jump cuts instantly evoke Hitchock). Beautifully poetic foreshadowing of how “players on the chess board” will rise and fall speedily. Maybe we think of great historical figures as heroes only because we see them from afar. The closer we look at people, the less immaculate they seem to be.
“A Hero” is filled with details yet never becomes confusing or overwhelming to its audience, which is an absolute trademark of Farhadi’s work. His gift as a writer, the ease and elegance with which he paints his characters, tangles and untangles his plot and subplots are remarkable. The camerawork, the many reflections, solid colors and softness to his images also add to the sense of nostalgic elegance.
He talks about many social values such as kindness, the importance of family and friends, honesty and honor. Farhadi also slaps us across the face with a growing concentration of injustices while gradually widening the movie’s scope. It is not only individuals who would do anything for good PR and some stardom, he says, but also corrupt institutes, from prisons to the staff of magazines and charities. Shallowness and hypocrisy collide with characters of principles.
Amir Jadidi gives a heart wrenching, deeply human and honest performance as Rahim. Without a shred of doubt, his performance would deserve any high-profile award – and probably he would win all of them – if he was British or American. “A Hero” has a superb cast, each actor giving highly nuanced performances. Besides Jadidi, if I had to pick another outstanding portrayal, I would choose the young Saleh Karimaei’s. He does a phenomenal job playing Siavash, the protagonist’s loving, sensitive, tongue-tied son.
Children bear much importance in all of Farhadi’s movies. They witness and perceive adults’ attitude and behaviour, learn patterns, are forced to grow up quickly while drowning in fear of losing their parents or grandparents.
At the end of the day, “A Hero” is a moral tale filled with characters who profoundly and selflessly care for each other, which might be the only trait that has the power of turning an everyday person into some kind of a hero.
Where to watch: Theatres & Prime Video
Author: Dora Endre. Here you can find more of her articles.