REVIEW: ‘A Hero’ at Aspen Filmfest
2 p.m.: ‘Bernstein’s Wall,’ Isis Theatre
5: ‘Flee,’ Wheeler Opera House
5: ‘Breaking Bread,’ Crystal Theatre (Carbondale)
7:30: ‘The Guilty,’ Crystal
8: ‘The Many Saints of Newark,’ Wheeler
More information: http://www.aspenfilm.org
A bag of gold is an ethical Pandora’s box in “A Hero,” Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi’s latest domestic thriller.
The new film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and screened at Aspen Filmfest on Friday. It is due for a theatrical and streaming release from Amazon Studios in January.
Farhadi, in the decade since his Oscar-winning international breakthrough “A Separation,” has created some of the most memorable and most morally complicated characters in cinema. Rahim, the beleaguered man at the center of this suspenseful melodrama, is among his most fascinatingly inscrutable.
Jailed in the city of Shiraz for failing to pay a debt, Rahim (Amir Jadidi) is desperate to find a way to make good and begin supporting his son and ex-wife. When his girlfriend, Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldust), finds a purse filled with gold while Rahim is on leave from debtor’s prison, he believes he may have found his ticket to solvency. But rather than taking the gold — it’s not quite enough to save them anyway — he launches a plan to find whoever left it behind instead. Farhadi and Jadidi don’t reveal Rahim’s exact motives in returning it — Is it truly altruistic? Is he gunning for a larger reward? — and the rest of the film plays out what seem like every worst-case scenario for the situation.
Jail officials see a public relations opportunity in Rahim’s story of giving back the gold and land him on the local news. But then his loan shark and others start pulling at loose threads from the story, beginning a vicious spiral of white lies, larger deceits, exploitations and some heartrending if unsurprising societal cruelty.
As one character sums it up: “Nothing is free in this world.”
“A Hero” contributes perspective to the current conversation around “cancel culture” and the way that communities and the media that represent communities so often build people up just to tear them down. But because this is a Farhadi film, nothing is in black and white and nobody is entirely a hero or a villain. The viewer roots for Rahim, but is given countless reasons to doubt him; we are repelled by the loan shark — played with depth beneath a calloused exterior by Mohsen Tanabandeh — and yet Farhadi also makes us empathize with his side of the story and makes us to consider why he won’t drop charges and allow Rahim to leave jail.
Visually, Farhadi sticks to his well-established unfussy approach. The film is not stylized and seems unmediated — Farhadi allows you to forget you’re seeing the story through the lens of a camera and from the perspective of a filmmaking team and have a human experience.
Watching Fahardi’s films — his last three have been Filmfest selections — it’s clear that he has become the best working filmmaker for kitchen sink drama. He’s a holdout on the big screen, as the genre has moved largely to television and serial programming.
But witnessing Farhadi at his best, as he is here and in “The Salesman” and “A Separation,” these films make a great argument for the relative brevity of a well-made satisfying two-hour narrative. “A Hero” could be lengthened and deepened into a 10-part series — all of Farhadi’s films could — but they are near perfect as they are, parsing intricacies of how we live today and trusting the viewer (and smart actors like Jadidi) to fill in backstory and context without making every bit of it explicit on screen.
We may not be able to decide who to trust in “A Hero,” but we know we’re in good hands with Farhadi as a storyteller.
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