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'A Hero' begins simple, but gets too complicated

A Hero - photo 1 - Photo credit Amirhossein Shojaei.JPG
Amirhossein Shojaei

Like other films by Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, the situation in A Hero begins small and simple, and then grows too complicated.

The opening images catch the main character right away. Rahim, a man maybe 35 or 40 years old, sits in a long, sterile hallway, alone in a kind of emptiness. In the next few shots, Rahim runs outside and misses his bus. It doesn't matter where the bus is going — Rahim is a guy who will always miss his bus.

It turns out, the hallway is in a jail and Rahim is leaving for a two-day furlough from a sentence for owing a large debt.

Rahim's first stop on his two days of freedom is an archaeological excavation where his brother-in-law works on the tomb of the Persian king Xerxes, who ruled from 486 to 465 BC. And like Rahim, the reputation of Xerxes is not entirely unblemished.

Rahim makes everything more difficult than it has to be. He wants his brother-in-law Hossein to square the debt with Bahram because he has half the money, and if Bahram agrees to take the rest over time, Rahim will be out of prison.

But the situation is not that clear. Rahim is divorced and has a girlfriend. The girlfriend found a purse at a bus stop with gold coins worth about half of what Rahim owes, but his bizarre plan is to find the person who lost the money, return it and make himself look moral, generous and heroic. It works for a while, and a local charity has a celebration and fundraiser to try to raise the money Rahim owes.

But it's the kind of ill-conceived scheme Lucy concocts in "I Love Lucy." It's not comic here, though; it's pathetic. Rahim is not an out-and-out crook, but he's certainly truth-challenged and he's a poor liar so everyone sees through him.

Rahim is played by a wonderful actor, Amir Jadidi who wears a half-smile on his face and makes his posture look vulnerable, so while you might not straight-out distrust him, you'd be a bit wary. He fudges the truth; he takes moral shortcuts, and just when you think he's either right or he's being wronged, you realize he's cut yet another corner.

And A Hero takes Rahim's equivocations and wraps them in a maze of conflicting family loyalties and the strong desire of the characters to maintain their good reputations. People worry about how things will look, and over and over they try to find ways to make everything okay and have everyone look honest and forthright. All those things human beings try to pull off that tend to go off the tracks, as they do here.

Director Asghar Farhadi makes the normal complications of human life visible. Scenes are crowded with people going about their lives — some are connected to the story, some are not. Farhadi overlaps sound, so that while Rahim may be explaining himself yet again, you might hear other characters in a nearby store or the sound of children playing. The world is not simple.

Rahim also has a young son who lives with Rahim's sister's family. The boy has a serious stammer, and most of the time he's quiet. But the movie constantly looks to this silent boy as the adults go through their machinations. Iranian movies often show children to show that the misdeeds of adults have repercussions on the young.

A boy with trouble speaking in an Iranian movie in general, and certainly in the ironically-titled A Hero is no afterthought. The boy is the moral voice of the movie. He sees everything; he's there at most of the crucial moments; you can tell from his face that even if he's young, his child's moral vision is clear, and like the country of Iran itself, perhaps, the one who understands best has immense trouble forming the right words.

Howie Movshovitz came to Colorado in 1966 as a VISTA Volunteer and never wanted to leave. After three years in VISTA, he went to graduate school at CU-Boulder and got a PhD in English, focusing on the literature of the Middle Ages. In the middle of that process, though (and he still loves that literature) he got sidetracked into movies, made three shorts, started writing film criticism and wound up teaching film at the University of Colorado-Denver. He continues to teach in UCD’s College of Arts & Media.
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