We Need ‘A Hero’

A lost bag of coins turns into a scandal in Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s latest film

In the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi‘s latest film,  A Hero, a bag of coins starts a scandal. It seems unreal that such a minor sum can turn into such a major thing, but using the coins as a powerful symbol, Farhadi reveals the domino effect of human greed.

Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.

Shortlisted for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, this tightly paced film showcases a Bresson-level script from Farhadi, who won the Grand Prix at Cannes this year. Amir Jadidi plays Rahim, a prisoner who returns home on a two day leave. On a bus, his wife finds a bag of coins, and the two head to a pawn shop to find out what they’re worth. The man says they aren’t worth much. Money is returned and dominoes start to fall.

A HERO ★★★★ (4/5 stars)
Directed by: Asghar Farhadi
Written by: Asghar Farhadi
Starring:Amir Jadidi, Mohsen Tanabandeh, Sahar Goldust
Running time: 127 mins

Part of what fuels the fire is Rahim’s plan to get out of jail without paying his debts, or his dues. Like Bresson’s L’Argent, in which a counterfeit bill takes on a fatal significance as people pass it from hand to hand, Farhadi’s bag of coins takes on a fatal virulence. Rahim owes money to his father-in-law, Bahram (Mohsen Tanabendah), who sent him to prison for not returning $300,000. So he comes up with a plan, sticking up notices around town for the bag and hoping for some kind of reward, in both cash and reputation.

The prisoner’s deed is soon the talk of the town. He’s on TV and in newspapers and–apparently–on social media, although Farhadi rarely shows his characters on phones or computers, but rather frames them behind doors, windows, and other objects that mimic the shape of television screens (a clever nod to Bresson’s aesthetic). Rahim’s time as a hero doesn’t last long, however, as old wounds are opened and old habits are revealed.

Our questioning kicks in when Rahim’s greed gets the best of him, testing his story. Who really found the bag? Who is the woman who claims it? Why were the prisoners so quick to praise their former inmate? Why do politicians have such a stake in Rahim’s case? While these questions pile up like stones on a pyramid, Farhadi doesn’t give them the same urgency as the director’s previous work (A Separation, The Salesman).

Nevertheless, Farhadi has crafted an unparalleled tomb of lies, a maze of contradictions and counter contradictions that keeps you hooked. The setup is a brilliant way to explore the ways in which greed destroys people and their families within an intimate, human-sized scale. It’s even more astonishing to consider where their story leads, even if Farhadi asks questions that he never answers.

He directs A Hero with a sensitivity and mystery that are as rich as the crisp, saturated images.An arresting performance from Jadidi anchors the story. He evolves from a hero into a shady, complicated figure, refusing to reveal too much of himself. At the end of the film, he repeats the words, “the truth is,… the truth is,…” But the truth is never as simple as we think it is, and everyone has their own version of that truth. Everyone has their reasons in this morality play, but Farhadi doesn’t pick sides; instead, he picks scabs.

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Asher Luberto

Asher Luberto is a film critic for L.A. Weekly, The Playlist, The Progressive and The Village Voice.

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