A Hero, Cannes review: an enthralling story of secrets, illicit cash and lies
Dir: Asghar Farhadi. Cert TBC, 127 mins
Asghar Farhadi is one of those filmmakers whose personal style is as steadfast as Marvel’s: allowing for a few cosmetic tweaks and squeaks each time, you generally know what you’re going to get. And generally, it’s very good. The Iranian director, whose A Separation won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2012, is a master of the twisting moral tale, in which ethical quandaries take on the character of snaky whodunits.
His latest is his best since that international breakthrough. After his recent jaunt to Madrid for the Pénelope Cruz-Javier Bardem drama Everybody Knows, which opened the festival in 2018, A Hero returns Farhadi to Iran, whose strict social codes concerning sex and class provide a Krypton Factor-like barrage of obstacles for his protagonists to surmount – or not.
Rahim (Amir Jadidi) doesn’t come across as the surmounting type. When we meet him, he’s being let out on day release from a debtor’s prison in Shiraz, and the eager smile plastered over this divorcé’s face as he wanders outdoors suggests he’s probably in there on account of folly rather than malice. Sure enough, Rahim has been silly enough to borrow a large sum from a loan shark which he couldn’t repay, causing his guarantor Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh) to lose his daughter’s dowry and his life savings.
Yet things are looking up. When he meets his girlfriend Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldust) – a speech therapist at a clinic attended by his son Siavash, who struggles with a stutter – she tells him about an incredible stroke of luck. While waiting for a bus, she found a handbag full of gold coins, the sale of which would go some way towards settling Rahim’s debts. However, the coins’ value barely covers half of what he owes, and Bahram isn’t interested in dropping the charges for that.
So instead, Rahim prints some lost-and-found posters and sets out to reunite the bag with its owner. After it’s claimed by a tearfully grateful woman, the prison recognises this can be spun for PR purposes – and sure enough, the story of the honest debtor who returned a missing fortune is catnip for the local papers and TV news. But since Rahim and Farkhondeh aren’t married, the truth has to be slightly massaged: Rahim claims to have found the gold himself during his time out of prison. And from this minuscule fib, an entire thicket of complications steadily sprouts.