Cast: Amir Jadidi, Sahar Goldoost, Mohsen Tanabandeh, Fereshteh Sadr Orafaie
Director: Asghar Farhadi
When a shortlisted Best Foreign Language submission comes to town directed by one of Iran’s most respected directors of all time, naturally this is the type of movie that draws instant attention from me. I wasn’t a huge fan of Farhadi’s previous movie Everybody Knows, but his reputation precedes him and both audiences and critics expect a high level of quality from Farhadi so this new project gives him a new opportunity to showcase that. With all of that in mind, how does this new project stack up to previous endeavors? From my perspective, A Hero is a return to form for Farhadi and showcases why he is consistently a contender in the international community. Through a combination of phenomenal ensemble performances, a captivating story, and an ability to communicate cultural themes outside of intended audience, A Hero stands out as one of the best international movies of the year and one that will help Farhadi get invited back to the Oscars in March.
The movie follows Rahim (Jadidi), a man who has been imprisoned due to an accrued debt and has been released for a two day break with his family. When he finds a purse with several gold coins that would eliminate the debt he has built up, Rahim makes the tough decision to return the money back to its original owner. This event draws widespread attention and makes Rahim a local hero and gives him status in the community. Over time though, doubts start to emerge about the series of events that Rahim claimed happened and this sets Rahim on a journey to prove his side of things instead of potentially going back to jail. Considering that most American viewers, myself included, have no direct experience with daily Iranian culture, Farhadi needs to make this movie connect with all types of audiences if it wants to make a splash in the international community. A great foreign movie makes you feel like you know everything going on without any subtitles. It’s an emotional connection that forms regardless of what language you speak. A Hero captures this essence beautifully by focusing on themes that transcend culture. Right and wrong, truth and lies, and the value of honor are all things that viewers identify with on a fundamental level and while they may play out differently in our cultures, the ideas are there for the entirety of the 127 minute runtime. These are easily found when watching the characters act out how they feel in every scene. Jadidi in particular is phenomenal in the leading role as all of the emotions, both good and bad, run through him and his situation. At its most central point, the idea of freedom and the fear of losing it should be enough to make everyone understand why Rahim is so motivated to come out of this situation with the best possible outcome for him and his family. Not only that, but since plot details are revealed over time, we don’t know whether or not Rahim is telling the truth or not until the plot unfolds. That element of suspense keeps the audience entertained and interested in the overall outcome instead of just focusing on the central themes. While the pacing of the movie can be a little slow in the first act, the movie really picks up during the climax and onwards which shows us that Farhadi saved the best parts of this movie for the end. Once again Farhadi is able to completely transport the audience and immerse them in this environment in a way that very few directors are able to. A Hero is a splendid blend of a new, fresh introduction to a world I know nothing about while making the audience comfortable enough to understand almost everything that they see. I felt as though I was right there in the community watching as the events of Rahim’s life played out before our eyes. Even the concept of someone going to jail because of their debt is bizarre to me, but in this case it looks as though it’s a common practice in Iran and a central reason why this story happens in the first place. There’s a saying in script-writing where writers should “write what they know” and it’s clear from the start that Farhadi knows exactly what he’s writing about. Farhadi is back to doing some of the best work of his career and shows exactly why everything he makes should be required viewing.
Overall, A Hero is an example of what happens if a movie like Dear Evan Hansen was directed by someone competent. Expertly crafted, emotionally powerful, and a strong combination of foreign and familiar, A Hero is head and shoulders above the rest of the international field that I have seen so far and if there was any justice in the world Farhadi would be walking away with his third Oscar in March. I know it may not be showing in many theaters around the country, but if there is one playing this near you I strongly encourage you to find a way to see A Hero. All else fails when it eventually makes it onto streaming services, please take the time to introduce yourself to new cultures, people, and ideas that you can’t get just anywhere.
Final Thoughts: See It